The Chrysanthemums

by: John Steinbeck

Elisa Allen

Characters Elisa Allen

Elisa Allen is an interesting, intelligent, and passionate woman who lives an unsatisfying, understimulated life. She’s thwarted or ignored at every turn: having a professional career is not an option for her, she has no children, her interest in the business side of the ranch goes unnoticed, her offers of helping her husband to ranch are treated with well-meant condescension, and her wish to see the world is shrugged off as an unfit desire for a woman to have. As a result, Elisa devotes all of her energy to maintaining her house and garden. The pride she takes in her housekeeping is both exaggerated and melancholy. Although she rightly brags about her green thumb, Elisa’s connection to nature seems forced and not something that comes as naturally as she claims. She knows a great deal about plants, most likely because as a woman, gardening is the only thing she has to think about.

Elisa is so frustrated with life that she readily looks to the tinker for stimulating conversation and even sex, two elements that seem to be lacking in her life. Her physical attraction to the tinker and her flirtatious, witty conversation with him bring out the best in Elisa, turning her into something of a poet. Her brief flashes of brilliance in the tinker’s presence show us how much she is always thinking and feeling and how rarely she gets to express herself. When the prospect of physical and mental fulfillment disappears with the tinker, Elisa’s devastation suggests how dissatisfied she is with her marriage. She’s so desperate to transcend the trap of being a woman that she seeks any escape, trying to banter with her husband, asking for wine with her dinner, and even expressing interest in the bloody fights that only men usually attend. None of these will truly satisfy Elisa, though, and it is doubtful that she’ll ever find fulfillment.