The Chrysanthemums

The Tinker Character Analysis

A traveling repairman who journeys the west coast from Seattle to San Diego and back each year in a covered wagon, mending household items, such as saucepans and scissors, and chasing the pleasant weather. When the tinker arrives on Elisa Allen’s farm in search of work, it is clear that she longs for the freedom that the tinker’s job affords him and the excitement of travel. Steinbeck describes the tinker as a large man, who, despite his grey beard and hair, does not appear old. He is dirty and wrinkled, and his eyes reveal a darkness that is vaguely threatening and not all together honest. Indeed, the tinker dupes Elisa into believing that he is interested in her and her chrysanthemums to secure work for himself. He claims that another customer is in search of good chrysanthemums for her own garden, and Elisa’s prize flowers are the best around. Elisa, immediately drawn to the man’s positive attention, supplies him with a pot of fresh chrysanthemum sprouts—after coming on to him in an overtly sexual manner, leaving them both uncomfortable and self-conscious. Of course, the fixer doesn’t really care about Elisa or her sprouts, and he throws the chrysanthemums unto the side of the road as soon as he leaves the Allens’ farm. Overall, Steinbeck’s representation of the tinker underscores the unfairness of America’s sexist society. The tinker is willing to lie and manipulate people in order to get what he wants. Still, as a man, he is permitted to define his own existence and profession, to live his life as he desires. This contrasts with Elisa, who, despite being a good and capable person, is denied the same freedom and opportunity simply because she is a woman.

The Tinker Quotes in The Chrysanthemums

The The Chrysanthemums quotes below are all either spoken by The Tinker or refer to The Tinker. 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

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 long mobile

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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

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
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The Tinker Character Timeline in The Chrysanthemums

The timeline below shows where the character The Tinker appears in The Chrysanthemums. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Chrysanthemums
Desolation and Fertility Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
...and driven by an unkept man, advertising “Pots, pans, knives, scissors, lawn mores, Fixed.” As the tinker , a big man with a “worn black suit,” stops his wagon, he informs Elisa... (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 it “a nice kind of a... (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... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
...the garden and, forgetting her gloves, begins to unearth fresh chrysanthemum sprouts to give to the tinker . As she digs, Elisa tells the tinker how his customer should care for the... (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... (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... (full context)
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
The tinker quickly interjects that while the night sky may be lovely, it is difficult to enjoy... (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... (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 wagon at night, and... (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 responds, “Sand, ma’am?”... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
...the side of the road, “but her eyes would not obey.” As the road bends, the tinker ’s caravan comes into view, and Elisa turns and looks at Henry so that she... (full context)