McCoy1 Eden McCoy Christine Rose English 1302 1 December 2009

I.

Summary A. “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck is about a married woman named Elisa Allen who is unhappy in her marriage, and therefore puts forth all of her energy into tending to her chrysanthemums. I. Elisa is a 35 year-old childless woman living in the Salinas Valley in California with her husband, Henry. While she is working in her fenced-off garden, Henry talks to two businessmen about selling some steed for a good amount of money, which she finds out only after asking him. He then asks if she’d like to go out and celebrate this evening with dinner and a movie, and she reluctantly agrees. II. While Henry gallops off to wrangle up his cattle, an old, ratted wagon with an unkempt man pulls into their front yard. The man drives up and down the West Coast in search for work, including sharpening scissors and mending pots. III. After finding out that there is no work for him to do there, he becomes interested in Elisa’s flowers, claiming a customer of his would love to have some seeds to plant. Elisa then begins to passionately speak about her precious chrysanthemums, describing in care and detail what his customer should do to make sure they bloom right. The man seems somewhat startled by the sudden vivacity coming from the woman. IV. Elisa finds a few old aluminum pots for the man to mend, for after helping out a customer of his with her green thumb expertise, she feels obliged. She pays him fifty cents a piece, and he goes on his way with the pot of sand and sprouts sitting next to him. V. Henry and Elisa wash and dress up for their night out, leaving their home in a fog that seems to grow thicker by the minute. As they round a corner and head toward town, the couple passes the lone traveling man and his wagon. They also pass Elisa’s flowers in a mound on the road. She keeps her emotions hidden from her husband, and only asks if they can have wine with their dinner. B. Thesis/Central Idea: Some women submit to the needs and desires of their husbands without ever tending to their own. I. The theme of this story is rustic, gloomy, and somewhat melancholy in that Elisa never seems to address what she wants to her husband. II. The fog surrounding the Salinas Valley goes hand in hand with Elisa’s suppressed feelings about her marriage. III. Steinbeck suggests that some women put the needs and desires of their spouses before their own happiness. II. Characterization A. Elisa Allen is a strong, capable woman.

McCoy2 I. She works a beautiful garden of chrysanthemums every year, and puts a lot of energy to making sure they bloom huge and bright. II. Steinbeck uses indirect characterization when her husband Henry he says, “You’ve got a gift with those things…Some of those yellow chrysanthemums you had this year were ten inches across” (705). III.. Elisa is also has pent-up passion and energy. She becomes passionately involved in her conversation with the traveling man when describing how to take care of chrysanthemums so they will bloom correctly, which seems to make the man uncomfortable. IV. The author uses direct characterization when he describes Elisa after she asks the man if he understands her explanation about “planting hands”. Steinbeck says “She was kneeling on the ground looking up at him. Her breast swelled passionately. The man’s eyes narrowed. He looked away self-consciously” (708). B. Elisa is a round and dynamic character. In the beginning of the story she is well put-together, doing her duties and staying out of her husband’s business. I. She seems okay with this arrangement due to her actions. “Elisa watched them for a moment and then went back to her work” (704). II. She is also dynamic in that her strong, unemotional demeanor around her husband falters when she sees her plants dumped on the road as they drive by them in the end. III. “She tried not to look as they passed it, but her eyes would not obey. She whispered to herself sadly” (711). C. Elisa is a woman that puts her husband’s wants and needs before her own. She feels her emotions are not worth making waves, and hides them from Henry, especially in the end when she becomes upset. She is a very strong woman, but perhaps too strong. III. Conflict A. The conflict in this story is Person vs. Self. I. This is an internal struggle throughout the story between Elisa Allen and herself. She puts aside the fact that she is unhappy and unfulfilled in her marriage to keep her husband happy. II. Elisa puts all of her energy into her gardening; energy that, in a healthy and happy marriage, would be put forth into her relationship. B. The traveling, lone man challenges Elisa in a way. I. He decides to feign interest in her chrysanthemums and she grows excited and instantly happy when he asks a question. II. “’What’s them plants, ma’am?’ The irritation and resistance melted from Elisa’s face” (707). III. The reader can notice the joy in Elisa’s descriptions as she helps the man to remember the directions for planting the flower stems. She seems possibly even overjoyed at the prospect that someone would actually have interest in something she was doing. IV. Elisa also has a struggle within herself about what she really wants to do with her life. She shows genuine interest in the life the traveling man has, and she knows that she can never live like that when she has a duty as a housewife. C. The conflict is not resolved in this story.

McCoy3 I. In the end, Elisa suppresses her feelings of hurt and sadness when she realizes the man did not want her flowers, only the pot for himself. She simply just asks Henry if they could have wine with their dinner. II. This reiterates the central idea of this story. Elisa will always put her husband’s contentedness before her own. IV. Point of View A. Steinbeck uses a dramatic point of view for this short story. I. The narrator briefly talks about Henry, the man, and the businessmen that Henry is with in the beginning, but they mostly concentrate on Elisa. II. This point of view is shown when Elisa and Henry are being introduced in the beginning of the story. “Elisa Allen, working in her flower garden, looked down across the yard and saw Henry, her husband, talking to two men in business suits” (704). III. A dramatic point of view is also shown greatly at the very end of the story, when the reader sees that Elisa is upset, and Henry has no inkling. “’It will be enough if we can have wine. It will be plenty.’ She turned up her collar so he could not see that she was crying weakly - like an old woman” (711). B. The dramatic point of view in this story can inhibit the reader from learning the true feelings of Elisa’s husband, Henry. One can wonder if he may really feel unhappy in his marriage as well. I. But, this point of view helps the reader to look at both characters when they speak with each other. As stated in The Explicator, “The initial dialogue between Henry and Elisa sets the tone for subsequent encounters and reveals the couple's fundamental problem: they do not know how to fight.” II. The dramatic point of view helps convey the suggestion that some women suppress their unhappiness and wanted desires in a marriage, and that the other spouse may never be fully aware of it. V. Setting A. “The Chrysanthemums” is set in the closed-off Salinas Valley in California. The month is December, and the fog is so heavy that it sweeps like a dense curtain over the terrain. I. The setting is specific, stated in the opening paragraph of the story. “The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world” (704). II. The setting does not change throughout the story. B. The setting has a function of explaining the relationship between Elisa and Henry Allen. I. In the second paragraph Steinbeck writes “A light wind blew up from the southwest so that the farmers were mildly hopeful of a good rain before long; but fog and rain do not go together” (704). II. This is best described in the article by Gregory Palmerino, where he states, “The natural elements of the foothills ranch seem as unwilling to confront each other as the characters that inhabit its environs. Hence, fog and rain can be seen as the female and male equivalents to Elisa and Henry, respectively: the former all too indistinct, and the latter altogether absent.”

McCoy4 III. The setting also has a function of advancing the plot. The gloom and murk depicted by the fog helps to foreshadow the atmosphere of the story. “It was a time of quiet and waiting. The air was cold and tender” (704). VI. Style/Use of Language A. There is much symbolism in Steinbeck’s writing in this short story. I. The “cage” in which Elisa works her garden can be seen as how she feels in her own life. She feels caged in and unable to find her place in a man’s world; a world in which she must only be a housewife. II. The flowers are seen as a symbol of Elisa’s hopes and dreams for her own future and the future of her marriage. When she sees them dumped on the road as they drive by, she feels crushed. Her momentary happiness at having someone interested in something that she truly loves and enjoys seemed too good to be true. She feels ashamed for even letting herself think of putting her dreams first. B. The tone Steinbeck uses in this story is hopelessness. I. Word repetition is used as a foreshadowing of the hopelessness in the relationship of Elisa and Henry. II. The word good is repeated in the story a number of times. Elisa says it to Henry when she congratulates him on the sale of his steers. Henry states that “It would be good for both of us” (711), when he suggests they go into town more often. This brings up the idea of entrapment in the marriage. VII. Conclusion A. “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck is a critically acclaimed classic short story. It has been interpreted in many different ways. From the beautiful descriptions of the Salinas Valley in California, to the dying passion between a longwedded couple, Steinbeck has a great use of language and symbolism. The chrysanthemums are not just the title of this story, but the telling of a woman’s inner-most thoughts and feelings. The reader almost saw a woman breaking out of her shell to change the life she had been living, but was once again brought back down to the earth she knew. B. John Steinbeck beautifully and tragically portrays how some women put the needs and desires of their husbands before their own true happiness.

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