At the beginning of the story, Elizabeth is seen interacting solely with her children, and although she grows impatient with them at times, she still worries about their safety and acts affectionately towards them. Her differing attitudes towards her children and her husband can be seen when John grumbles that the room is too dark—although his complaints remind Elizabeth of her husband's irritating habits, she laughs affectionately at the appearance of these habits in John. In general, Elizabeth is quickly conciliatory when dealing with John, even though he's surly and resentful.
The contrast between mother/son and wife/husband becomes even more obvious when Walter's mother and Elizabeth react to Walter's death. As Walter's mother says, "But he wasn't your son, Lizzie, an' it makes a difference…" When faced with Walter's body, Walter's mother is able to remember all the endearing aspects of Walter from when he was a little boy she was raising, whereas Elizabeth feels suddenly that she was always married to someone she didn't know.
Mother/Children Relationships ThemeTracker
Mother/Children Relationships Quotes in Odour of Chrysanthemums
As the mother watched her son's sullen little struggle with the wood, she saw herself in his silence and pertinacity; she saw the father in her child's indifference to all but himself. She seemed to be occupied by her husband. He had probably gone past his home, slunk past his own door, to drink before he came in, while his dinner spoiled and wasted in waiting.
"I canna see."
"Good gracious!" cried the mother irritably, "you're as bad as your father if it's a bit dusk!"
Nevertheless she took a paper spill from a sheaf on the mantelpiece and proceeded to light the lamp that hung from the ceiling in the middle of the room.
If he was killed—would she be able to manage on the little pension and what she could earn?—she counted up rapidly. If he was hurt—they wouldn't take him to the hospital—how tiresome he would be to nurse!—but perhaps she'd be able to get him away from the drink and his hateful ways. She would—while he was ill. The tears offered to come to her eyes at the picture. But what sentimental luxury was this she was beginning?—She turned to consider the children. At any rate she was absolutely necessary for them. They were her business.
"But he wasn't your son, Lizzie, an' it makes a difference. Whatever he was, I remember him when he was little, an' I learned to understand him and to make allowances. You've got to make allowances for them—"
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.