John Steinbeck's short story "The Chrysanthemums" is the story of a woman who is closed off emotionally, then changed by a stranger, and finally betrayed by that stranger. The story begins in a fog-shrouded valley, which is a symbol for the woman's emotional state: "There was no sunshine in the valley now in December" (1509).
Elisa Allen, 35, lives in a man's world. She works in her garden and watches her husband and two men discuss business: "The three of them stood by the tractor-shed, each man with one foot on the side of the little Fordson. They smoked cigarettes and studied the machine as they talked" (510). At the same time, Elisa hides her own femininity in her gardening outfit:
Her figure looked blocked and heavy . . . , a man's black hat pulled low down over her eyes, clod-hopped 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 [and] heavy leather gloves. . . . (1510).
There is a great deal of "energy" in her that makes her "over-powerful." She has hidden away her desires in her work in the garden, especially her work with the chrysanthemums. She runs a neat house and a pretty garden, but inside she is starving emotionally. All her care and love and attention go into the garden and the chrysanthemums. She is so involved with the flowers and making sure that bugs are not eating them that she doesn't hear when her husband approaches: "At it again," he said to her. He praises her for her talent with roses, but to him it is as if she is a little girl playing with toys. He does not take her or her garden of flowers seriously. She suggests that maybe she could help with the crops, but he doesn't take her seriously. He tells her the men he was talking to have bought some cattle, and he suggests they go to town to celebrate with a movie and dinner. He playfully suggests they go to the fights, but she sa...