The Chrysanthemums | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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The Chrysanthemums | Quotes


It sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot.


This quote shows how Steinbeck uses setting descriptions to evoke a mood: in this case the fog covering the valley closes everything in, stifling the people in it.


The chrysanthemum stems seemed too small and easy for her energy.


This quote uses a comparison between the work Elisa Allen is doing and her attitude as she does it, implying that Elisa is a strong person who could do far more than just clip stems.


Maybe I could do it, too. I've a gift with things, all right.

Elisa Allen

This quote reveals Elisa's need to feel important and strong and be seen that way by her husband. It also shows her pride in her capabilities and her desire to do more with her gift than just work the flower garden.


Of course I'll like it. It's good to eat away from home.

Elisa Allen

This quote shows that Elisa wonders why Henry Allen is asking her if she'll like something he already knows is a good thing. She is saying yes to Henry's proposition to go to town for dinner and a movie, but the "of course" in her reply is a small dig at her husband, implying he doesn't know her as well as he thinks he does, which is irritating to her.


Two rows of articles, and the triumphantly definitive "Fixed" below.


This quote emphasizes the pride the tinker takes in his work, although the condition of the wagon and his own appearance make him look as if he's not professional at anything.


The laughter had disappeared from his face and eyes the moment his laughing voice ceased.


This quote characterizes the tinker as a person who will joke with potential customers but doesn't allow the joking to connect him with anyone. He laughs along with Elisa to make her feel comfortable enough to give him work but goes no further than that. The division between the tinker and customers is kept firm.


He changed his tone quickly.


The tinker has searched for a subject about which he can get Elisa worked up, and he has found it in the chrysanthemums. He uses her passion to try to get her to feel friendlier toward him and give him business. He has just finished saying that chrysanthemums smell bad, but because Elisa retorts that he is wrong, he immediately changes his opinion and says how he likes the smell himself. He changes his whole manner to convince her that he is on her side so she will relent and give him work.


They know. They never make a mistake. You can feel it.

Elisa Allen

Elisa tries to explain planting hands to the tinker, and she becomes passionate about her subject. Her planting hands are her gift, and she reveals this part of herself to the tinker, at once trying to impress him and ask if he has ever felt the way she does. Now that the tinker wants to know about chrysanthemums, Elisa begins to think he may be a kindred spirit.


Maybe I know ... Sometimes in the night in the wagon there—


The tinker is feeling self-conscious about Elisa's passion, and yet he encourages her to keep talking because he thinks she may give him work. This quote is a little ambiguous because he may be talking about the feeling he gets from the night sky, which is what Elisa thinks he's talking about. He may, however, be talking about his own entertainment in the wagon at night. This double meaning highlights the erotic tension between Elisa and the tinker.


Kneeling there, her hand went out toward his legs in the greasy black trousers.


This quote shows the effect the conversation is having on Elisa. She thinks she has made a connection with the tinker regarding the feeling they both get, looking at the night sky, but she starts to go further by reaching for his leg. The fact that it is his leg she reaches for shows that she feels the erotic tension as well.


I could show you what a woman might do.

Elisa Allen

Elisa desperately wants to recapture the connection with the tinker, who has reverted to being professional with her, and in this quote she tries to impress him with her ability to do his job. However, he has told her the road, alone, is no place for a woman to be. She thinks she would love his life, but she doesn't really know what his life is like, and he is not going to encourage her to follow her need for freedom.


That's a bright direction. There's a glowing there.

Elisa Allen

Elisa longs for the life the tinker lives, and in this quote she surprises herself by whispering this sentiment aloud, showing that this longing is deep but embarrassing to her. She also fears that there is no hope for her to change her own life, use her strengths, and be independent unless she follows in the tinker's path.


I am strong? Yes, strong. What do you mean "strong"?

Elisa Allen

In this quote Elisa lashes out at her husband, sure that his compliments are directed at the qualities that make her a good farm wife who doesn't break out of her boundaries, a reaction that baffles Henry. What she really wants is to do something meaningful and big with her strengths, which she is realizing are bigger than she thought. She wants to be recognized for her talents and wants this to happen in a setting where a woman doesn't usually go, but Henry can't know that because she doesn't tell him.


Far ahead on the road Elisa saw a dark speck. She knew.


This quote takes the reader into Elisa's mind as she realizes the tinker has thrown the chrysanthemums onto the road. She and Henry are going to pass by him on the road as well. She is embarrassed and angry with herself for falling for his ploy to get work from her and for using what she views as her strength and passion to manipulate her into doing what he wanted.


I don't want to go. I'm sure I don't.

Elisa Allen

Elisa is saddened by the betrayal of her trust by the tinker, but she is still so wrapped up in the desire to do something that women don't usually do, to prove her strength, that she tries to connect with Henry about the fights he has joked about before. This quote shows she realizes she is just grasping for something to replace the moment with the tinker when she felt her own strength. Her husband is perfectly willing to take her to a fight, but she knows it's not something she will enjoy and gives up. All she will get that is different and exciting is wine with dinner, which is not enough for her ambition to stretch beyond her sheltered life. She has to turn her face away from her husband to hide her tears of frustration and sadness.

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