Marriage (and marital conflict in particular) is so central to "The Odour of Chrysanthemums" that you'll feel like a certified marriage counselor by the end. Our heroine, Elizabeth, spends a lot of time thinking about her husband, Walter . . . and the thoughts are far from warm and fuzzy. Walter apparently likes to go out after work (without letting anyone know) and spend hours getting drunk while his family sits at home waiting for him to turn up. Believing that's just what's happening when he fails to show up for dinner on the evening during which the story takes place, Elizabeth spends a lot of time seething about his bad behavior and its impact on the family. However, when Walter turns up dead late in the tale, she suddenly has an epiphany about how she really never knew him at all . . . in fact, death seems to make her question whether she can really know or connect with anyone.
Questions About Marriage
In what ways is marriage portrayed positively? Negatively?
At the end of the story, Elizabeth seems to believe she's committed some kind of injustice against her husband by not understanding who he truly was. It sounds like he was kind of a hellion, even in his mama's estimation, so what exactly was Elizabeth's "mistake" with him? And was it avoidable?
What do you make of the fact that the story frequently refers to characters as the "wife" or "husband" of someone else, rather than by their names? Why does it matter?
Chew on This
The story emphasizes marital roles (e.g., "husband" and "wife") rather than individual character traits to highlight the fact that marital relationships are more about playing roles than actual connections between individuals.
The story's portrayal of marriage is overwhelmingly negative—especially for women, who at that time could end up totally trapped with and economically dependent on a bad husband (one who seems a lot better only once he and his earnings are gone).