Reflecting on the Dead In Katherine Mansfield's "The Garden Party" and in D. H. Lawrence's "Odour of Chrysanthemums," two women were in a situation where death was literally at their feet. In "The Garden Party," Laura finds herself contemplating the dead body of Mr. Scott, a man of lower class who lived at the bottom of the hill from her house. In "Odour of Chrysanthemums," Elizabeth finds herself contemplating the dead body of her husband, Walter.
Although the relationships these women shared with the dead men were completely opposite, they both had striking similarities in the ways that they handled the situation. Both women ignored the feelings of the families of the deceased, failed to refer to the deceased by name, felt shame in the presence of the deceased and both had a life and death epiphany. Although Laura and Elizabeth were in two similar yet very different situations, they both had contemplated the dead men, acted in similar ways, felt similar emotions and both ended up having an epiphany regarding life and death at the end of the story. No real concern was shown in either story for family members of the dead.
In fact the only concern shown by Laura and Elizabeth was only concern for themselves. In "The Garden Party," Laura did not once show any consideration for Mr. Scott's family. Even in the presence of the widow and her sister, Laura never mentioned anything about feeling sorry for them about their loss. The most concern shown for Mr. Scott's family was before a party that her family was throwing when she questioned, "what the band would sound like to that poor woman" (Mansfield 2429).
Laura also never showed concern for Mr. Scott's children. Her reference to Mr. Scott's wife and children as the "poor woman and those little children" (Mansfield 2430), was the only sympathy the widow and her family received from her. Laura seemed only concerned with how "terribly nervous" she was and that she was being watched with "staring eyes" (Mansfield 2432). She didn't even acknowledge that Mr.
Scott had a family that was suffering. Elizabeth, in "Odour of Chrysanthemums," lacked the same condolence. Unlike Laura, this was her own family she lacked sympathy for. She never expressed any responsibility about how her children were going to handle the loss of their father. At the end of the story is the only time Elizabeth expressed concern for her children by closing the parlour door where the father was laying "lest the children should see what was lying there" (Lawrence 2330).
Obviously this was not a concern with the overall well-being of her children. It was merely a way to prevent the shock of seeing their dead father before they have been told of his passing. Furthermore, the mother-in-law was also denied any sympathy from Elizabeth. Although Elizabeth acknowledged the mother-in-law "moaning" (Mansfield 2327) in her grief, she never expressed concern for the mother-in-law's well-being. She was so caught up in her own feelings that she failed to consider her family. Although the family of the deceased was Elizabeth's family and Laura had no relation to Mr.
Scott or his family, both women showed only concern for themselves and no one else. In the presence of the dead men, Laura and Elizabeth never referred to the deceased by their names. In "The Garden Party," Laura didn't call Mr. Scott by his name. Throughout the story he was just referred to as "the man." When Laura was standing over Mr. Scott, she still thought of him as "a young man" and simply "him" (Mansfield 2433).
Despite Laura's concern over his death, he was still of a lower class than her and not a part of her upper class world. The cottages around where Mr. Scott and his family lived were described as "disgusting and sordid," and Laura used the word "creature" (Mansfield 2429) when referring to the widow and her sister. This suggests that she felt that Mr.
Scott and his family were not thought of as people with names. To Laura they were creatures who lived liked animals in these shanty houses. Elizabeth also never referred to her husband by his name. She had only called him "a husband" (Lawrence 2329), but never her husband, and repeatedly labeled his corpse as "this man", "him" or "the man" (Lawrence 2328-2329). While contemplating his dead body, Elizabeth came to the conclusion that she "knew he was a stranger to her" (Lawrence 2329). In her mind "she had never seen him" (Lawrence 2329).
Therefore in theory, she had never known his name. Even though Laura and Mr. Scott were complete strangers, her reason for not using his name was due to his lower social status. Elizabeth never used her husband's name because in her mind he was a stranger that she had never met. The feeling of shame in front of the bodies of Mr. Scott and Walter were expressed by both Laura and Elizabeth.
Laura felt shame due to her class and its petty materialistic worries. When speaking of Mr. Scott, Laura questioned what "garden parties and baskets and lace frocks matter to him" and that "he was far from all those things" (Mansfield 2433). She realized that the dead could care less about these luxuries that are of so much importance to her upper class. Afterwards, she asked him to "forgive her hat" (Mansfield 2433). Her hat symbolized not only her class, but the material luxuries associated with that class.
She was ashamed of flaunting this extravagancy in front of this man of lower class, who amongst death was so "happy" and "content" in his "sleep" (Mansfield 2433). Elizabeth also felt shameful in front her dead husband. After she questioned her relationship with Walter, she "looked at his naked body and was ashamed, as if she had denied him" (Lawrence 2329). Elizabeth had never accepted Walter for who he was, "refused him as himself" and "saw it now" (Lawrence 2329). She had also felt as if he had been "cruelly injured" and that "she had not been able to help him" (Mansfield 2329). Elizabeth was ashamed of her life long rejection of Walter.
Although both women felt shame, it was Elizabeth's own actions that had caused the shame in front of her dead husband, and it was Laura's social class that had caused her shame in the presence of the late Mr. Scott. Lastly, Laura and Elizabeth both had an epiphany regarding life and death. Laura found that life is more than social events and fancy hats and that death is just as beautiful as life.
Although Laura never finished her statement about life at the end of the story, she did mention to her brother Laurie that her encounter with the late Mr. Scott "was simply marvelous" and thus went on to say "isn't life" (Mansfield 2433). To Laura Mr. Scott looked "wonderful, beautiful" and "content" (Mansfield 2433). This realization of the beauty of death helped her to see life as it is.
Without the worries of material things, life is "simply marvellous" (Mansfield 2433). On the other hand, Elizabeth had felt that "she submitted to life, which was her immediate master" (Lawrence 2330). Although "she was grateful to death which restored the truth" (Lawrence 2329), it was "from death, her ultimate master, she winced with fear and shame" (Lawrence 2330). Elizabeth found that she was bound to life, which presently controlled her, but it was death which held that frightening truth and reality. It is to this truth and reality that Elizabeth would ultimately have to submit. Both women had epiphanies concerning life and death, but Laura saw a beauty in death which helped her to see the beauty of life.
Elizabeth realized the frightening possibility that life was just an immediate placement and that her reality resided in death. Even though Laura and Elizabeth were un compassionate towards the families, failed to call the deceased by their names, felt shame and had a life and death epiphany, both women had different stances and reasons concerning their actions. The relationship and the personal or social difference that Laura and Elizabeth shared with the dead men were all factors in how they acted, reacted and lastly how these affected the epiphany that the two women experienced throughout and at the end of these stories. Works Cited Lawrence, D.
H. "The Odour of Chrysanthemums." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.
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2316-2330. Mansfield, Katherine. "The Garden Party." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed.
M. H. Abrams. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.