The Chrysanthemums

by: John Steinbeck

The Tinker

Characters The Tinker

Elisa idealizes the visiting Tinker as exciting and smart, although it’s difficult to tell whether he is actually either of these things. Although his misspelled advertisement for kitchen implement repair indicates that he hasn’t had much schooling, the tinker comes across as a witty man who flirts and banters with Elisa. He is also clever and canny enough to convince the skeptical Elisa to give him work, begging at first and finally resorting to flattery. His ability to manipulate her may appeal to Elisa, who is used to manipulating her own husband. In fact, she seems to relish the chance to spar with a worthy partner, and the tinker produces an intense reaction in her. If we can trust her interpretation of him, he shares her appreciation for travel and her interest in a physical connection. However, Steinbeck suggests that although the tinker may actually possess these qualities, it is also possible that Elisa merely imagines that he possesses them because she’s so desperate to talk to someone who understands her. In fact, the tinker may be bewildered and embarrassed by her intensity and want only to sell his services to her. The fact that he tosses away her chrysanthemum shoots—a symbol of Elisa herself—supports the idea that the tinker does not share Elisa’s passions at all.