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Shame in An Odor of Chrysanthemums Essay


Underneath it all: Elizabeth and Lorraine

Character analysis and comparison.

Odor of Chrysanthemums

A sense of shame

Who decides what we should feel or how we should act? And, to what extent can we handle not being able to express our own thoughts, opinions and feelings? The characters Elizabeth and Lorraine, from the stories Odor of Chrysanthemums and A Sense of Shame respectively, both had feelings that did not belong or were not appropriate to the context of their specific situations. Each woman was put under pressure from the outside and it took a deeper look to be able to realize and truly see their inner emotions. Elizabeths more than inappropriate feelings for her husband, where she was more relieved at the news of his death rather than sad or in grief and Lorraines ongoing conflict between the love she felt for Mohammad and the risk she put herself in when starting a relationship with someone people would not approve of, come to show that we cannot always be expected to feel, or act or even think in the same way that is sometimes placed upon us. The values and ideals that a culture may enforce on us can have such an impact and we may not even realize it until we find ourselves in a situation that has us believing or thinking differently. How can we know how much of the outside world has influenced our thoughts and opinions, constantly telling us what is right and wrong, and, most importantly, how do we act when we come to realize that our feelings are different than what is expected?

We first hear of Elizabeth Bates, from the story Odor of Chrysanthemums, presented as a housewife, when she is waiting for her husband to return home from work. Right away something feels strange, because she does not show any signs of anxiousness or concern for her husband to return, but rather, there seems to be a feeling of tiredness and anger. As if, bothered, yet again, by the fact that she knows her husband will not show up at a decent time, and she already assumes that he is somewhere else, most probably intoxicated.

Twenty minutes to six! In a tone of fine bitter carelessness she continued: Eh, hell

not come home until they bring him. There hell stick! But he neednt come rolling

in here in his pit dirt, for I wont wash him. He can lie on the floor- Eh, what a fool

Ive been, what a fool! And this is what I came here for, to this dirty hole, rats and

all, for him to slink past his very door. Twice last week- hes begun now-

Disregarding any problems this couple may or may not have had, we would assume that at least a speck of concern would come from his wife. This does not seem to be the case, and even if in the beginning we see Elizabeth as a suffering wife who deserves our sympathy and empathy, her response and attitude to Walters death reveals that she is not as guiltless for her unhappiness as she first appears to be. We know that she feels trapped and worthless in her marriage. She feels as if she has wasted her time by being with Walter and that she could have done so much more, so much better without him, and with someone else. Still, none of this changes the fact that he was her husband for many years and we do not expect to see that a woman who has been married for some time now, has no other emotion at the news of her dead husband than becoming worried about future plans and economic demands to be met, all of this appears as too harsh. In most societies, even today, certain ideals are maintained and understood regarding married life and it is definitely not common for a wife to be more aware of other issues at the time of her husbands death.

Elizabeths thoughts were busy somewhere else. 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 wouldnt take him to the

hospital- how tiresome he would be to nurse! -but perhaps, shed 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

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