When Elizabeth looks over Walter's dead body, she feels "the utter isolation of the human soul." She realizes that she and Walter have always been two separate entities who didn't understand one another, and even when they were physically intimate, there was a lack of understanding and emotional connection between them. She reacts flinchingly towards the baby growing inside her, as it's a reminder of the distance that couldn't be overcome between her and Walter, even by children. She understands that although the distance is emphasized now by death, they were removed from each other long before Walter passed away.
Even before Walter dies, Elizabeth is a picture of isolation. At the very beginning of the story, she watches the miners pass, but her husband doesn't come. She commands the household on her own, and the references to Walter show that she's emotionally removed from him even before he dies. In the description of her son, John, for example, she sees "the father in her child's indifference to all but himself." Finally, the way the story's told—from Elizabeth's perspective, in her head—also emphasizes her solitude by further removing the reader from the perspectives of the other characters in the story.
Isolation of Individual Lives ThemeTracker
Isolation of Individual Lives Quotes in Odour of Chrysanthemums
When they arose, saw him lying in the naïve dignity of death, the women stood arrested in fear and respect. For a few moments they remained still, looking down, the old mother whimpering. Elizabeth felt countermanded. She saw him, how utterly inviolable he lay in himself. She had nothing to do with him.
They never forgot it was death, and the touch of the man's dead body gave them strange emotions, different in each of the women; a great dread possessed them both, the mother felt the lie was given to her womb, she was denied; the wife felt the utter isolation of the human soul, the child within her was a weight apart from her.
There were the children—but the children belonged to life. This dead man had nothing to do with them. He and she were only channels through which life had flowed to issue in the children. She was a mother—but how awful she knew it now to have been a wife. And he, dead now, how awful he must have felt it to be a husband.