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The Chrysanthemums

John Steinbeck

Important Quotations Explained

Narration

How to Cite This SparkNote

1. The man on the seat called out, “That’s a bad dog in a fight when he gets started.”
Elisa laughed. “I see he is. How soon does he generally get started?”
The man caught up her laughter and echoed it heartily. “Sometimes not for weeks and weeks.”

Upon first meeting each other, Elisa and the tinker exchange a few friendly words that are slightly menacing at the same time. Just like his dog, the tinker is an interloper, an unknown and potentially dangerous person. Indeed, the tinker’s rugged appearance and slightly flirtatious banter stimulates Elisa, who flirts with him in return. The laughter with which he responds to her question is subtler than it first appears: he may be simply amused, he may sense an emotional connection between the two of them, or he may be matching her laughter in the hopes that she’ll hire him to do some work. This difficulty interpreting the tinker’s reactions persists throughout the story. In fact, it may be the mysteriousness of the tinker that attracts Elisa to him in the first place.

2. Elisa stood in front of her wire fence watching the slow progress of the caravan. Her shoulders were straight, her head thrown back, her eyes half closed, so that the scene came vaguely into them . . . . she whispered, “That’s a bright direction. There’s a glowing there.”

As Elisa watches the tinker move off into the distance, she reveals that her interest in him is not purely physical but also connected to his lifestyle. The tinker wanders wherever he likes, sleeps under the stars, and answers to no one, all of which captivates Elisa. While the tinker repairs her pots, she comes close to begging him to take her along with him, touting her pot-mending and scissor-sharpening skills and saying that she could show him what a woman is capable of. She is interested in sleeping with the tinker but perhaps even more interested in having adventures with him. When he turns her down, shooing away her desire with assurances that his lifestyle is too lonesome and frightening for a woman, Elisa has nothing left to do but watch him leave. Her stance as she tracks his progress is proud and strong, and her half-closed eyes hint that she’s imagining all the possibilities of such a lifestyle. For Elisa, the “bright direction” is the one that would take her away from her own life.

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