We often assume that the quick conversations with a stranger in the grocery store or a shopping mall are just that, quick conversations that are soon forgotten. We don’t expect them to profoundly impact our lives or even change who we are. Elisa Allen in John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums” was not expecting any visitors while cutting down the old year’s chrysanthemums, much less a visitor that would deeply impact her and her feelings. Her character starts out as a strong woman and ends in tears.
Elisa Allen is a dynamic and round character. Steinbeck describes her to us in great detail from her face that is strong, lean, eager, and mature to her blocked figure in her gardening costume. We see a woman who knows how to work hard and is proud of the fact she inherited planters’ hands from her mother. The initial interaction she has with her husband is typical of the era in which the story takes place. He is uninterested in her chrysanthemums and would prefer her to use her talents to grow something worthwhile like apples. This insinuates that overall Elisa is lonely and finds solace in her flowers and we see her vulnerability early in the story. We see her strength when a man looking for work rides up to her property. He is a peddler who fixes pots, pans, and sharpens instruments. She is cordial and makes conversation with him, but when the small talk leads to paying him for services her strength rises and she quickly resists him. Unfortunately, she is not strong enough to keep from falling victim to this man’s manipulation. As the conversation turns to her beloved chrysanthemums, she drops her guard and lets this man, whom she has never met before, into her inner most feeling and thoughts. He has hit her weak spot and he takes advantage of her. Her masculine characteristics turn into femininity that she herself has dearly missed. As Elisa gives him directions on how to care for the plants, she begins to tell him of her planting hands. The conversation has...
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