The setting of the short story sets the tone for the theme. It opens up with the following description: The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world. (1) The environment of Elisa Allens current home location leaves the rural valley with little to no exchange from the outside world. Henry Allen, Elisas husband, is having a business conversation with two professional men as they stood near the tractor shed. When Elisa views her husband from the distance of her chrysanthemum garden, she feels that sense of separation. Her physical and emotional being begins to reach feelings of abandonment, while her husband partakes in the manual labor and demanding tasks of the ranch, which is supposed to be considered a mans job, whereas the womens job is characterized by the actions of gardening, preparing meals and maintaining a clean residency.
After her husband Henry leaves to finish his business affiliations, Elisa spots a wagon that is being controlled by an unshaven man. As he dismantles from his caravan, Elisa and the stranger strike a conversation about her gardening abilities and her . . . planters hands.(13) They discussed how she was able to place ordinary seeds within the ground and succeed in bringing these plants to their mature state. One thing that appealed to Elisas attention was the mans eyes. She describes them as . . . dark and. . . full of the brooding that gets in the eyes of teamsters and sailors. (33) Soon after gazing upon his eyes, Elisa gives the man directions to the Los Angeles Highway because he fell off his usual route. As time passes, the man speaks of his distant travel and his profession as a tinker, an individual who makes a living through the mending of pots and sharpening knifes. After numerous words had been exchanged, the tinker notifies that one of his customers wants to grow chrysanthemums. Elisas mood completely alters from the statement this man has made. This influenced Elisas sense of aspiration.
She offered the man some spouts in a pot that he may deliver to the customer. She hastily then explains step-by-step on how to nourish these flowers and maintain their lusciousness and livelihood. In the middle of instructing the gentleman, she slows down and begins to grow confused. The conversation becomes awkward. The tinker then promises to try to remember the instructions she had given him. Time elapses, the tinker is ready to leave. Before his departure, Elisa pays the man fifty cents for repairing two damaged pans that she had dug up. As the tinker returns from the direction in wince he came, she waves goodbye and begins to whisper softly to herself. Elisa finds herself alone, once again isolated and lonely.
Another theme that is brought upon the readers attention is the theme of dissatisfaction. There are various moments in The Chrysanthemums where Elisa is unsatisfied with her overall well-being. Before Elisa meets the tinker, she is found in her garden cutting down last years chrysanthemum stalks with a pair of small, yet powerful scissors. As she slicing away at the stalks, The chrysanthemum stems seemed too small and easy for her energy. (6) Usually when an average individual performs a job that indeed is not difficult, it tends to become tedious. Elisa is indeed passionate about her garden but, she is so dissatisfied with herself that the stems werent worth cutting. Henry Allen steps into the picture. He had just sold . . . thirty head of three-year-old steers (16) to the Western Meat Company.
That being said he wanted to celebrate with his wife by taking her to dinner at the Cominos Hotel. Surprisingly Elisa was quite fond of this idea. She states, Of course Ill like it. Its good to eat away from home. (23) Fast forward to where Henry and Elisa are getting dress to go on a pleasant evening with each other. As Henry finishes putting on his last item of clothing, he noticed his stunning wife. He attempts to give a compliment to his wife by saying she looks You look so nice. (99) Elisas idiotic response was Nice? You think I look nice? What do you mean by nice? (100) Henry struggles to explain himself and becomes bewildered. Elisa is so discontent with her own physical appearance that her loving husbands affectionate compliment could not lift her spirits up. Believe it or not, there are often implications throughout the story of Elisa being considered a strong woman. For example, after the verbal altercation with her husband she declares Im strong. . . I never knew before how strong. . . (104). In the last few lines of the story, she is labeled as an old woman for crying weakly. . . (122).
Through the entire story of John Steinbecks The Chrysanthemum, the character of Elisa suffers through loneliness and isolation along with the dissatisfaction of her own life. There are even points where she demonstrates characteristics of strength and passion. At the end of the story, the conclusion stands that Elisa Allen is a complete mystery. Her inconsistency to maintain resilience in matters dealing with her God-given talent deprives Elisa of positivity and satisfaction. The audience cannot fully understand the complexity of Elisa Allens mind; therefore many questions are left unanswered.
Kennedy, X. J., and Dana Gioia. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction,Poetry, Drama, and Writing. 11th ed. New York: Pearson, 2010. Print. Steinbeck, John. The Chrysanthemums. Logan, IA: Perfection Form, 1979. Print.