53 pages 1 hour read

John Steinbeck

The Chrysanthemums

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1937

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Of the three characters in this story, only Henry Allen seems satisfied with his life. He has a successful ranch, a clean house, a pretty wife, and enough money to go out to dinner and a movie. He is easily pleased and excited that his wife dressed up, and he even suggests a bottle of wine with dinner. He seems happy with his life and his work on the ranch.

Elisa and the Tinker, on the other hand, are both dissatisfied with their lives, though for different reasons. Elisa is too spirited to stay confined to her garden. She has bigger goals for herself, whether that’s using her gardening skills in the orchard or beating the dents out of pots and pans—anything to show what she is capable of. She seeks an outlet for her passion, whether that’s through snipping chrysanthemum stems or flirting with the Tinker.

For a moment in the middle of the story, the reader gets a glimpse of what Elisa would be like if her life were truly fulfilling. When talking to the Tinker about her chrysanthemums, her eyes shine, she shakes out her hair, and she seems in touch with herself and her desires.