“Odour of Chrysanthemums” centers on the character of Elizabeth, a wife and mother in a small mining town. Elizabeth’s life is largely devoted to caring for her family. Although she understands that her husband, Walter, works hard and risks his life in the coal mine, she frequently resents him for such habits as drinking with his friends in the pub. Elizabeth has difficulty accepting the constraints that the mining way of life imposes. Despite the joy she gains from her children, she often senses that life should bring more enrichment. She associates her wedding with her first experiences of disappointment over her husband’s drinking.
Elizabeth’s strong sense of duty that predominates over her resentment is revealed when she goes looking for Walter. Rather than invade his social world at the pub, she calls at the home of his friend and coworker. As the story shifts from a routine day when Walter's behavior merely annoys her, the author shows the real hardships that miners' families face.
Elizabeth must seriously consider the possibility that Walter has been injured or even killed, as such events happen frequently. Despite her worries, she must present a stoical front with his mother and her children. It is only after his body has been retrieved from the mine that she admits to herself the conflicting emotions she had experienced throughout the marriage. It took a tragedy to make her see the truth.