Amanda Garcia Mrs. Christopher Engl. 1302 April 15, 2013 Paper 1 Character Analysis “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck John Steinbeck was born in 1902 and lived during what is said to be the most troubled time in American history. Steinbeck was alive during the Dust Bowl paired with the Great Depression, which is believed to be the reason for his almost melancholiac tone in some of his works but he seemed a very diverse writer.
Along with “The Chrysanthemums”, Steinbeck is the author of the well-known and famous novel turned movie The Grapes of Wrath, where he used a “documentary style”, says Cliff Lewis in his online article he named after Steinbeck. Moreover in his article, Lewis expresses some of the lingering secrets and personality conflicts that some of Steinbeck’s characters struggle with that one might take away from Steinbeck’s famous literature. Steinbeck is an excellent writer, winning a Pulitzer Prize as well as the National Book Award.
Steinbeck is not only a talented author, he is described as a “story-teller” by Lewis, which is clearly displayed by Steinbeck’s constant and subtle lessons throughout his short story, “The Chrysanthemums”. Careful character study of the three most mentioned characters, the loving husband, Henry Allen, the mysterious peddler traveling through Salinas Valley, and finally the perfect sinner Elisa Allen will be discussed throughout this character analysis of “The Chrysanthemums” by Steinbeck.
Henry Allen is the “perfect” husband by the standards of the criteria that men were expected to have during the setting of the story. What more could a woman (in this time) want? A successful business man to provide and take care of Mrs. Allen, the occasional fluffing of egos when necessary, and of course a candle-lit dinner and a show once a month, and repeat. Henry might seem to have his wife’s best interest as long as it is also up to a woman’s standards. Mr. Allen will give or do anything for his wife to be happy as long as she doesn’t step outside of her womanly boundaries.
Henry might even genuinely love his wife but this man is not exactly so quick to nurture his wife and be present emotionally. Henry would buy this woman’s love before looking deep inside and realizing this woman needs love and affection. Henry’s subtly mocking his wife by belittling her after admiring her organized work is a beam of light shined upon Henry’s true colors when he says, “Some of those yellow chrysanthemums you had this year were ten inches across. I wish you’d work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big” (Steinbeck 2).
Henry Allen, the loving, precise, and strangely indifferent, maybe a little blind husband is the first to be scrutinized carefully in this character study. Next, the mysterious, not-so-handyman with no name comes into focus. This character is a complete contrast from the stale husband and lifestyle Elisa married so young. This messy, unorganized, traveler shows up just in time to divert Allen away from her seemingly dull passionless life. Although his appearance may scream the contrary this is a sharp minded man, he may not have the wife and big house, this man would be able to con his way there.
Having years of experience and this man’s street smarts was a seriously dangerous mix when this man took Elisa’s life by surprise, “I ain’t in any hurry, ma’am. I go from Seattle to San Diego and back every year” (Steinbeck 4). It seems this man treated this like any other scam, saying whatever he could to make his “customer” feel in control while simultaneously wrapping this unfortunately lonely woman tightly around his filthy finger. This man is around for one reason only, money, and sadly leaves the Allen home in a cloud of smoke and in ruins.
This con-artist is a master manipulator who took what he could and never intended on taking a second glance at this poor, unsuspecting, desperate housewife. The passion that the peddler had for making money is equal to that of Elisa’s intensity for her flowers, and for a point, this man, the mysteriously dangerous, tornado of a man, the begging pot repairman. Finally, the main attraction, Mrs. Elisa Allen, the thirty-five year old woman who seemed as if she was a lot stronger than she truly was.
Really she was denying the fact that she was longing for attention, a passionate woman, who might have not been meant for the life she feels so trapped in. She channeled her aggression and love to her beautiful, carefully taken care of garden of chrysanthemums and sadly, for a moment the man who took advantage of her vulnerability. Elisa, being childless, grew and nurtured the flowers as a part of her, becoming one with the earth beneath her fingertips and creating life. An example of her expressing her careful meticulous planting system is a glimpse of the passion she had for her “work”.
The point where the salesperson begins working his magic on her she nearly swoons, when speaking of her beloved precious chrysanthemums, “Oh beautiful. ” her eyes shone” (5). Not only does she show passion for her plants, the reader begins to feel the energy be concentrated completely to the repairman. This woman almost gets fully lost in lust and forgets that she’s speaking of her beloved flowers. This seemingly strong woman gets so caught up in the fantasy of this exciting moment she briefly comes across this stranger she loses her touch with reality and it all comes back in the end and hurts her deeply within.
To finish off, these various encounters between Elisa and the two men begin with the reality of her “perfect life” and tedious and child-like wonder lifestyle and mindset where she thinks, that instantaneously altered with the sound of a loud wagon rolling in her life when she questions herself, “I am strong? Yes, strong… ” (Steinbeck 8). Then, the bitter realization that her redundant meaningless life will forever be just that enters and consumes Elisa as quickly as the “business man” came and went when she “… turned up her collar so he could not see that she was crying weakly… (Steinbeck 10). The interaction with Henry is cold, old, and rehearsed, almost as if they go through the motions everyday. Whereas, after the mystery man escapes and leaves her and her insignificant flowers behind, Elisa realizes this is it, she could drink as much as she wanted it wouldn’t bring the man back or no shower would change the fact that he took her money, chunked the plant, and she made a fool of herself and her husband by even entertaining the though that she might leave him for a gypsy-soul lifestyle that wasn’t her own.
Elisa’s life was planned and set, she is destined to stay in her garden, quietly and perfectly, with Henry and her idealized chrysanthemums. This analysis took into depth the character study of the ideal, yet hard to want husband Henry Allen, the manipulative ways of a tinker who came and went, and the mistakes made by a lonely, foolish businessman’s wife named Elisa Allen. Word Count: 1,178 Works Cited Lewis, Cliff. “John Steinbeck (1902-1968). ” Web. 11 April. 2013 Steinbeck, John. “The Chrysanthemums. ” Web. 24 Aug. 2010