Is it possible for a woman to break free of the oppression that she feels inside? “The Chrysanthemums,” by John Steinbeck tell of how the flowers that Elisa Allen grows mimic her own existence. Elisa lives in the Salinas Valley which is isolated from the rest of the world by mountains and a high dense winter fog. She yearns of the day when she will break free of her mundane life and a valley that holds her prisoner. Maybe it is wishful thinking or she may be ready to take on a world that considers her the weaker sex.
Henry and Elisa Allen live on a cattle ranch in the Salinas Valley and it is here that Elisa relishes in her flower garden. Elisa, dressed in a man’s old hat, clod hopper shoes, figure print dress that she covers with a blocked apron, and a pair of leather gloves, is busy with her chrysanthemums, while Henry is busy concluding a savvy business with two men unknown to Elisa. After the men leave Henry shares the good news with Elisa and takes a moment to compliment her on the chrysanthemums. Elisa also exchanges a compliment on Henry’s cattle sell. He suggests that the two of them go out to dinner and a movie to celebrate after he gathers the steer. Elisa agrees and Henry leaves to her gardening.
The chrysanthemums represent Elisa’s repressed sexuality and she takes special care to allow her planters’ hands to methodically prune each plant and eradicating any bugs that would obstruct their growth. They are the focal point of Elisa’s life and she takes great pride in her flower garden. The chrysanthemums are her life and offer her the freedom withheld by society. Her passion for the chrysanthemums could be an outlet to vent the frustrations of her life.
As she is busy with her chrysanthemums, she is interrupted by a man on a wagon professing that he can fix anything. A tinker man is off his regular route and is in need of work so that he can buy himself dinner. The tinker man and Elisa break the ice...