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Initially, Elizabeth Bates is described as "a tall woman of imperious mien." That is, she has a domineering, authoritative look. She is uptight, telling her son John not to drop petals of the Chrysanthemums even though he's outside.
And while pleased to see her father, she does not approve of his marriage. Her father says, "And if I'm going to marry again it may as well be soon as late--what does it matter to anybody?" To this, she just walks away to get his tea.
Elizabeth comes across as a stern, frustrated woman. But in the first part of this story, it seems that she is married to a man (Walter) who drinks irresponsibly. This could imply that Walter wastes his paycheck, neglects his children, or worse. So, imperious or not, this leads the reader to maybe show some sympathy for her. As the story unfolds, it is more likely that she demonizes Walter because she's unhappy in general; not necessarily because he drinks.
In the second part of the story, Elizabeth's frustration leads her to seek the help of neighbors. While in their house, she is appalled by the mess. This is another indication that her frustration with her situation in life isn't just a reaction to her husband's drinking. She shows some elitism here, thinking that she's better than her husband and the common people of this rural mining town.
Near the end, with her husband hurt or possibly dead, she doesn't worry about him; she wonders if the pension will be enough to live on. Then she finds out he has died. This eventually spurs a revelation. She realizes that she didn't know him at all. As they are separated completely with his death, she realizes they had always been apart.
And now she saw, and turned silent in seeing. For she had been wrong. She had said he was something he was not; she had felt familiar with him. Whereas he was apart all the while, living as she never lived, feeling as she never felt.
In the end, she even tries to "claim" him by touch and strives to make some connection as she washes the body, but she can not. She feels ashamed for fighting against her husband and for fighting against her situation in life. This frustrating in fighting caused her to separate herself from him and others, and this also had something to do with the fact that she felt she deserved better than those around her. She went from a frustrated, imperious woman to a reflective and penitent widow who recognizes that she had been pushing people (namely Walter) away.
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