The Tinker - John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthem

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Sex, adventure, and purpose, not the three themes that would define John Stein beck's "The Chrysanthemums" upon one's first read-through… Alas, this story, like many others, is about much more than meets the eye. Symbolism runs thick and heavy through Steinbeck's short story whose main character is a women named Elisa Allen whose life is narrow and unexciting. She is limited in what she can become by geography, self esteem and opportunity. Her husband is kind and warm but there is no real passion or appreciation shared between the two. They are disinterested with each other's lives. Her husband is completely immersed in running their farm. Elisa spends her spare time caring for and raising a garden of chrysanthemums. Her husband does not appreciate her flowers at all and would rather have her put her skills to use on the farm. Each day is a carbon copy of the one before…until a stranger comes to town.

One afternoon as Elisa is working in her garden, "A squeak of wheels and plod of hoofs came from the road." (241) She looks up curiously to see a "crazy, loose jointed wagon" (241) coming towards her down the road. Inside the old, odd wagon was a large framed, middle-aged man whose "eyes (were) dark, and they were full of brooding that gets in the eyes of teamsters and of sailors." His hands were rough and calloused, his clothing was wrinkled and spotted with grease. This man, the Tinker, plays a major role in "The Chrysanthemums." In Steinbeck's melancholy tale the Tinker represents adventure and the unknown, sexuality, and Elisa's sense of self-worth.

Elisa is clearly unhappy with her lot in life. She longs for adventure but she is trapped where she is by her lack of self-esteem, depression, and...