An energetic, attractive thirty-five year old woman, Elisa Allen is the story's protagonist. Although she is an excellent gardener and housekeeper, Elisa nonetheless feels a profound dissastisfaction with her own life. She responds eagerly to her husband's joke that she could help him in the orchard, and expresses equal excitement considering the tinker's independent, nomadic life. The enthusiasm with which she responds both verbally and, eventually, physically, to the tinker speaks to her unhappiness with her marriage, specifically with the dissatisfaction she has with her husband on a physical level.
Elisa's easy banter with the tinker, her eloquence in describing the intuitive connection she has with her chrysanthemums, and her robust energy indicates that she is in the prime of her life physically and intellectually. Her lack of access to tasks beyond those small domestic chores required of her as a woman and a wife mean she is stifled in her position in life, and her lack of agency keeps her submissive to her husband.
Elisa's husband, Henry, is by all accounts a proficient and compentant partner. He treats Elisa with relative respect, and performs those duties one would expect of an adequate husband - he praises Elisa's gardening skills, offers to take her out, and compliments her beauty.
Despite this proficiency, though, it is clear that Henry does not understand his wife's true frustration, nor is he capable of connecting with her on any level more profound than that provided by their stereotypical roles as husband and wife. When she presses him on any of his banal compliments, he gets confused and can't answer her, and he appears baffled by her "strange" questions about boxing matches. He is oblivious to Elisa's realization of the tinker's abandoned chrysanthemum sprouts. Elisa's insistence on pulling up her collar so that he can't see her cry at the story's end speaks to a fundamental distance in their relationship.
An itinernant salesman, the tinker is poor and uneducated, but nonetheless possesses enough charm and persistance to eke out a living. He employs a variety of strategies to try and earn some business from Elisa, from bragging about his competence to angling for pity, and finally, flattering her by expressing an interest in her chrysanthemums.
When he realizes that Elisa has responded to this tack, the tinker is shrewd enough to to press this advantage, inveting a woman "down the road" who is missing chrysanthemums in her garden. Despite his uncouth appearance, then, he has an underlying cleverness that he exploits to his advantage.
Whether or not the tinker is aware of Elisa's sexual attraction to him, he does not respond to it, seeming to be much more interested in getting money out of Elisa. Like Henry, the tinker is fully immersed in the patriarchal society of which he is on the fringes, insisting that Elisa would be unhappy in his position.
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: