In ‘The Chrysanthemums’; by John Steinbeck, the role of Elisa shifts several times throughout the story, from the loving, sensitive wife, to strong, independent woman and back. This all comes about from a meeting with a traveling repairman. Her attraction to the repairman, and his apparent interest in Elisa’s prized chrysanthemums, gives her a feeling of strength that she does not achieve from being with her husband Henry. Eventually, though, she finds that she was swindled, and returns to becoming an overly sensitive woman.
It seems that Elisa Allen puts almost all of her energy into her chrysanthemums, and that these flowers have become a reflection of her. Because of that, she works too hard on them. ‘Evidence in the story suggests, that Elisa . . . is talented and energetic-as well as frustrated. She cuts her chrysanthemum stalks with excessive energy; ‘her work with the scissors [is] over-eager, over-powerful (Hughes, 23) ”;. When the repairman shows interest in Elisa’s flowers she becomes attracted at that moment.
It almost seems like Elisa lives through her flowers, that they are a reflection of her. That being the case, it was interesting to see that even though her husband Henry didn’t pay notice to her garden, Elisa invited the repairman into the garden after just a few minutes. It looks like these flowers are the way to Elisa’s heart. Since Henry didn’t really seem to care, Elisa felt a sense of strength and beauty after the repairman showed interest. After the meeting with the repairman, she stands in front of the mirror naked, staring at her body.
Upon Henry’s return, she presses him for his thoughts on her appearance. These things make Elisa a ‘Steinbeck strong woman,’; with seemingly masculine traits: ‘The woman chooses a traditional feminine activity, gardening, as a creative outlet, yet the dedication with which each undertakes her project is of the sort traditionally considered masculine. ‘; (Mitchell, 154)
Steinbeck’s imagery also lends to this sense of masculinity surrounding Elisa: ‘Her face was lean and strong and her eyes were as clear as water . . . an’s black hat pulled low over her eyes, clod-hopper shoes, a figured print dress almost completely covered by a big corduroy apron with four big pockets (339). ‘; The most noticeable change in Elisa’s character is when she realizes that the repairman had duped her into making some money. After seeing her chrysanthemum stalks on the side of the road after leaving with Henry, she begins to cry, although she tries hard to hide it from her husband. Just like that her feeling of strength had gone away, although she had attempted to hide it.
It seemed as though she were trying too hard to remain strong, asking Henry about how the boxers got all bloody during their fights. The very last line, though shows how Elisa felt about the whole episode: ‘She turned up her coat collar so he could not see that she was crying weakly – like an old woman (345). ‘; It’s obvious that Steinbeck use a shift in gender roles in describing Elisa’s character. Her change from loving, quiet wife to strong, independent woman and back are what make this such a great story.