Steinbeck thoroughly paints a vivid image of the grey, dull weather surrounding Henry Allen's ranch throughout the story. The "grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky" (337); later, Elisa sits and stares out at the "grey afternoon" (346). The dreariness of the setting, and the lack of color, is further reinforced by the mention of Elisa's chrysanthemums - although they are not yet in bloom, the reader can picture their eventual flowering, and how those vivid colos will contrast with this grey world. Like the flowers, Elisa has not "bloomed" either; she is trapped in a world as oppressively monotonous as the grey weather of the Salinas Valley.
Henry and Elisa's house
Although a small moment in the story, Steinbeck uses equally vivid imagery to describe Henry and Elisa's "neat white farm house": "It was a hard-swept looking little house, with hard-polished windows, and a clean mud-mat on the front steps" (338). Just from this portrait, the reader can infer much about Elisa's skills as a housekeeper, and her ability to maintain "hard-polished" windows helps reinforce the "over-eager" and "over-powerful" (338) description Steinbeck has painted of her. The reader easily gets the impression that Elisa is bursting with repressed energy.
Additionally, the tidiness and cleanliness of the house lends it an impression of sterility, thematically mirroring Elisa and Henry's relationship, which lacks passion and true love.
Steinbeck also uses rich imagery to describe the tinker. He explains that the tinker was "a very big man. Although his hair and beard were greying, he did not look old. His worn black suit was wrinkled and spotted with grease. The laughter had disappeared from his face and eyes the moment his laughing voice ceased. His eyes were dark, and they were full of the brooding that gets in the eyes of teamsters and of sailors. The calloused hands he rested on the wire fence were cracked, and every crack was a black line. He took off his battered hat" (340-1).
From this short burst of imagery, the reader can easily picture the tinker, and infer much about his personality. He is obviously poor and working class, having spent a lot of time outside working with his hands. He seems to have a cold, practical side to him, and be at least somewhat artificial in his politeness and warmth. His greying hair indicates that he has seen a lot, and is perhaps aging prematurely due to his hard life, but the fact that he doesn't "look old" would also suggest that he still has an energy and drive.
Elisa's gardening outfit
A great deal of detailed imagery is used to describe Elisa's gardening outfit at the beginning of the story. "Her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume, a man's black hat pulled low down over her eyes, clod-hopper shoes, a figured print dress almost completely covered by a big corduroy apron with four big pockets to hold the snips, the trowel and scratcher, the seeds and the knife she worked with. She wore heavy leather gloves to protect her hands while she worked" (338).
A clear image emerges of Elisa weighed down by a bulky, dark gardening outfit. This imagery helps emphasize Elisa's oppression not only physically by her clothes, but spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually by her position in life. As a woman, she is unable to do more than keep her house and garden, superfluous, unfulfilling tasks that don't allow her to express herself artistically or provide for herself financially. The outfit she wears at the beginning of the story heightens this oppression.
The Chrysanthemums Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Chrysanthemums is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Elisa returns to her house, removes all of her clothes and bathes. When she's finished, she stands in front of her bedroom mirror and studies her body. She slowly gets dressed, taking her time to put on her nicest, prettiest clothes and carefully...
I think Elisa is guarded at first but the stranger's talk of flowers draws her femininity to the surface. She becomes less constrained. The stranger's feigned interest in her flowers draws Elisa's attention: