The Chrysanthemums

Elisa Allen Character Analysis

The protagonist of “The Chrysanthemums,” Elisa is a farmer’s wife living in California’s Salinas Valley in the 1930’s. When first introduced, Elisa is depicted as a strong and capable woman of thirty-five, hard at work in her chrysanthemum garden. It evident that she and her husband, Henry, have a cordial yet passionless marriage, and that Elisa’s time, energy, and considerable skill is occupied by meticulously tending to both the couple’s home and her small yet impressive garden. As Elisa works to ensure the next season’s blooms, it becomes clear that she is capable of much more than flowers and aesthetic beauty. Her dedication and natural ease with plants suggests that she could contribute to their farm in a more direct and practical way, such as growing apples in the orchard, but her status as a woman limits the scope of her world to caregiving and homemaking. Nevertheless, Elisa clearly aches for a life in which she is permitted to do and be more. Elisa’s unhappiness fuels her curious and sexually-charged interaction with the tinker, a traveling repairman who feigns interest in Elisa and her chrysanthemums in an attempt to secure work. By the end of the story, any hopes that Elisa has of defining her own existence are dashed when the tinker discards her cherished chrysanthemums on the side of the road and she is left feeling like a weak, old woman. Steinbeck’s portrayal of Elisa illustrates the damaging effects of American patriarchy while also exposing the ridiculousness of excluding a strong and productive member of society simply on the basis of her gender.

Elisa Allen Quotes in The Chrysanthemums

The The Chrysanthemums quotes below are all either spoken by Elisa Allen or refer to Elisa Allen. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of The Chrysanthemums published in 1956.
The Chrysanthemums Quotes

The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world. On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made the great valley a closed pot.

Related Characters: Elisa Allen
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

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It was a time of quiet and waiting. The air was cold and tender. A light wind blew up from the southwest so that the farmers were mildly hopeful of a good rain before long; but fog and rain do not go together.

Related Characters: Elisa Allen
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

She was thirty-five. Her face was lean and strong and her eyes were clear as water. Her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume, a man’s black hat pulled low down over her eyes, clodhopper shoes, a figured print dress almost completely covered by a big corduroy apron with four big pockets to hold the snips, the trowel and scratcher, the seeds and the knife she worked with.

Related Characters: Elisa Allen
Related Symbols: Scissors
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“You’ve got a gift with things,” Henry observed. “Some of those yellow chrysanthemums you had this year were ten inches across. I wish you’d work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big.”

Related Characters: Henry Allen (speaker), Elisa Allen
Related Symbols: Chrysanthemums
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Her eyes sharpened. “Maybe I could do it, too. I’ve a gift with things, all right. My mother had it. She could stick anything in the ground and make it grow. She said it was having planters’ hands that knew how to do it.”

Related Characters: Elisa Allen (speaker), Henry Allen
Page Number: 2-3
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Elisa saw that he was a very big man. Although his hair and beard were greying, he did not look old. His worn black suit was wrinkled and spotted with grease. The laughter had disappeared from his face and eyes the moment that his laughing voice ceased. His eyes were dark, and they were filled with the brooding that gets in the eyes of teamsters and of sailors.

Related Characters: Elisa Allen, The Tinker
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Elisa’s voice grew husky. She broke in on him, “I’ve never lived as you do, but I know what you mean. When the night is dark – why, the stars are sharp-pointed, and there’s quiet. Why, you rise up and up! Every pointed star gets driven into your body. It’s like that. Hot and sharp and – lovely.”

Related Characters: Elisa Allen (speaker), The Tinker
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Elisa stood in front of her wire fence watching the slow progression of the caravan. Her shoulders were straight, her head thrown back, her eyes half-closed, so that the scene came vaguely into them. Her lips moved silently, forming the words “Good-bye – good-bye.” Then she whispered, “That’s a bright direction. There’s a glowing there.” The sound of her whisper startled her. She shook herself free and looked to see whether anyone had been listening. Only the dogs had heard.

Related Characters: Elisa Allen (speaker), The Tinker
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

After a while she began to dress, slowly. She put on her newest underclothing and her nicest stockings and the dress which was the symbol of her prettiness. She worked carefully on her hair, penciled her eyebrows and rouged her lips.

Related Characters: Elisa Allen
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

She tried no to look as they passed it, but her eyes would not obey. She whispered to herself sadly, “He might have thrown them off the road. That wouldn’t have been much trouble, not very much. But he kept the pot,” she exclaimed. “He had to keep the pot. That’s why he couldn’t get them off the road.”

Related Characters: Elisa Allen (speaker), The Tinker
Related Symbols: Chrysanthemums
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

She relaxed limply in the seat. “Oh, no. No. I don’t want to go. I’m sure I don’t.” Her face was turned away from him. “It will be enough if we can have wine. It will be plenty.” She turned up her coat collar so he could not see that she was crying weakly – like an old woman.

Related Characters: Elisa Allen (speaker), Henry Allen
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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Elisa Allen Character Timeline in The Chrysanthemums

The timeline below shows where the character Elisa Allen appears in The Chrysanthemums. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Chrysanthemums
Desolation and Fertility Theme Icon
...southwestern breeze suggests rain despite the heavy fog. The valley is home to Henry and Elisa Allen’s farm, which has entered a period of “quiet and waiting.”  (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
While Henry is across the field talking to two men in business suits, Elisa busies herself in her small chrysanthemum garden. At thirty-five, her appearance is strong and masculine,... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
As Henry approaches the garden, Elisa is startled by his sudden appearance. He compliments Elisa’s ability to grow such large chrysanthemums... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
...Salinas and perhaps a picture show. He even suggests that they attend the fights afterward. Elisa quickly becomes irritated, reminding Henry that she doesn’t enjoy the fights. Henry insists he is... (full context)
Desolation and Fertility Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
As Elisa continues her meticulous work, a strange covered wagon approaches her farm drawn by a haggard... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Desolation and Fertility Theme Icon
Elisa is pleasant and warmly welcomes the tinker. She expresses an interest in his nomadic lifestyle—deeming... (full context)
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
As the tinker searches for another way to secure work from Elisa, his eyes fall on the chrysanthemum garden where she has been working and he engages... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
Elisa runs excitedly to the back of her house and returns with a brand-new pot. She... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Desolation and Fertility Theme Icon
The tinker is confused as Elisa explains her “planters’ hands” and her ability to grow anything in the dirt. Elisa tries... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
The tinker becomes uncomfortable and tells Elisa that her “planters’ hands” are similar to how he feels at night in his wagon.... (full context)
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
...the night sky may be lovely, it is difficult to enjoy on an empty stomach. Elisa, feeling ashamed, hands him the pot of chrysanthemum sprouts and goes to find something for... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
As the tinker begins to mend Elisa’s old saucepan, his demeanor instantly changes. He becomes “professional,” and as he assembles his tools... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Desolation and Fertility Theme Icon
Elisa chats with the tinker as he works. She asks him if he sleeps in the... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
Elisa reminds the tinker to keep the sand moist in the pot of chrysanthemums. The tinker... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
Elisa runs hurriedly into the house to ready herself for her date with Henry. She checks... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
As Henry takes a bath, Elisa sets his dark suit out on the bed, including his shirt, tie, and socks. She... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
As Henry loudly exits the house, he is caught off-guard by Elisa’s appearance, remarking, “Why—why, Elisa. You look so nice!” When Elisa puts him on the spot... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Elisa hears Henry drive to the gate, yet she takes a long time putting on her... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
As Elisa and Henry drive into Salinas, Elisa notices a small speck in the road and instantly... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Desolation and Fertility Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
Elisa loudly tells Henry that it will be nice to have a good dinner out. Noticing... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
Elisa sits listlessly in her seat. She claims she really doesn’t want to go to the... (full context)