'The Chrysanthemums': The End: Summary
Once the tinker's wagon disappears, Elisa returns to her house, where she removes all of her clothes and bathes thoroughly. When she's finished, she stands in front of her bedroom mirror and studies her body. Finally, she slowly gets dressed, wearing her newest and nicest clothes, carefully styling her hair, and doing her make up.
Henry returns, and Elisa calls out that she's still dressing. She suggests he take a bath, and lays out his clothes for him. She sits on the porch, waiting. Henry comes out to meet her, remarking that she looks "so nice" (346). Elisa asks him what she means by nice, and he returns that she looks "different, strong and happy" (346). When she presses him further, asking him what he means by "strong", he helplessly replies that she's "playing some kind of a game... you look strong enough to break a calf over your knee, happy enough to eat it like a watermelon" (347). She breaks for a moment, but then composes herself, answering that she never knew how strong she really was.
Henry gets the car while Elisa gets her coat and hat on, taking her time. Finally, she joins Henry in the car. As they drive towards town, she sees a dark speck on the road in the distance, and although she tries not to look at it as they pass, she can't help herself: it is the chrysanthemum sprouts she prepared for the tinker, dumped at the side of the road. She whispers to herself sadly that she wishes he threw the sprouts further off the road, but she realizes as she says it that he must have dropped them close to the road because he kept the flowerpot.
As they continue to drive, Elisa recognizes the tinker's wagon, but refuses to look at it. They pass it. Elisa asks Henry if they can get wine at dinner, and he replies excitedly that that will be nice. They drive in silence, and then Elisa asks Henry about the fights he spoke about in town. She asks if the fighters hurt each other very much, explaining that she's read they often break each other’s noses and get very bloody. Henry, confused, asks her what’s wrong.
Elisa asks Henry if women ever go to the fights. Henry, still confused, again asks her what’s wrong, announcing that some women do go to the fights, and if she really wants to go he'll take her, although he doesn't think she'll like it. Elisa relaxes in her seat, saying she doesn't want to go, and that "it will be enough if we can have wine. It will be plenty" (348). She turns up her coat collar so he can't see that she's crying.
'The Chrysanthemums': The End: Analysis
After the tinker leaves, Elisa retreats to the house, bathes, and studies her body, as though his visit has somehow awoken in her an awareness of it and interest in it. Her methodical, ritualized dressing into her prettiest outfit, as well as the effort she puts into her hair and makeup, represent a total transformation from the "blocked and heavy" (338) figure she presents at the story's start, dirty and wearing her masculine gardening outfit.
The sexual awakening the tinker appears to have sparked in her is emphasized by this transformation, although whether this is a repressive view of the future (by showing Elisa moving away from the potential of "masculine" agency and back into a more conventional, oppressed "female" position) or a more empowered vision of herself (interested in exploring her own sexual potential, and, as she herself describes on page 347, "strong") has remained a topic of debate by critics and readers alike.
Elisa's relationship to Henry is different after the tinker's visit. He himself can't seem to figure out what's different about her, although he recognizes something is, and remarks repeatedly about it. What she describes as strength, though, he ultimately rejects as her doing nothing more than "playing a game" (347), as though it is easier for him to recognize childish playfulness in Elisa than it is to recognize any kind of actual growing strength in his wife.
Elisa's recognition of the discarded chrysanthemum sprouts, and her realization that the tinker used her for a sale seem to further disrupt her uneasy mind, and challenge some of the personal strength she's recently found. Henry's obliviousness to her discovery only emphasizes his inability to access his wife's inner self. Elisa is clearly a creative person, and assumed that by giving her flowers to the tinker, she had found an outlet for some of her creative energy, but the discovery of the discarded sprouts reverses and destroys this satisfaction.
Elisa's request for wine, and her questions about the fighting both demonstrate her eagerness to continue to press herself. For some, these requests are no more than Elisa's own, rather pathetic attempts to satisfy a deeper yearning with a superficial activity that will never accomplish the goal. Other critics see the request for wine as a legitimate moment of growth in her character; a demonstration that she has bloomed, much like her chrysanthemums, into a different, stronger version of herself.
Likewise, the story's final sentence has been the source of some debate. For many, the crying represents her own tacit understanding of her defeat, the sense that she will never rise above the oppressive circumstances brought on by her gender. Others, though, contend that just like her chrysanthemums, which aren't currently in bloom but will bloom by the next season, Elisa will one day re-emerge as a new, more empowered version of herself. Although to most readers, "crying weakly-like an old woman" (348) represents a kind of mournful failure, others have argued that there can be something beautiful and cathartic in this image, which should be appreciated as such.