What a Girl Wants, What a Girl Needs
Through his short story “The Chrysanthemums,” John Steinbeck shows the importance of making a woman feel important and loved. He illustrates this point by describing how Elisa Allen responds to two different men in the story: One, her husband, and the other, a complete stranger. Elisa responds to each of them, relative to the way she is treated by them. Her husband treats her with indifference and mockery, whereas the stranger treats her with friendliness and respect. Both her husband’s and the stranger’s attitudes toward her elicit a respective response from Elisa.
The story starts with Elisa Allen working on a farm. She is working energetically. It seems “the chrysanthemums are too small and easy for her energy.” Elisa is an “over-eager” and “over powerful” farmer. Her husband, Henry Allen approaches her while she busily tends “her flower garden.” Surprised and impressed by her crop, he comments, “You’ve got a gift with things.” His surprise reveals that he is not in tune with her capabilities, as a husband should be. He praises her without understanding the genuine interest she takes in her work or realizing the potential she has to accomplish so much more in her life.
Henry perceives Elisa as an unequal partner in their marriage. Whilst he involves himself with business matters and meeting potential buyers, she works strenuously with weeds and sprouts. When Henry tells her of a sale he recently accomplished, Elisa responds: “Good, good for you.” Elisa responds to him as an unequal partner. Henry elicits this response from her, as he does not treat her as an equal. Elisa is not able to see this sale as something good for her herself too, as Henry has belittled her to the level of a common worker.
As a result of perceiving herself as a mere farm worker, Elisa feels masculine and unpretentious. Her face is described as “lean and strong.” She wears a “man’s black hat” upon her head and a “gardening costume” upon her body. She is not the gracious, pretty image of the typical ladylike stereotype. Elisa clearly feels dirty and unfeminine during her days working on the farm.
Soon after her encounter with her husband, Elisa meets a tinker who happens upon her farm while losing track on his journey. From the very start of their meeting, the tinker has Elisa laughing and captivated.
To the tinker, Elisa’s farming work and talent is seen as respectable and praiseworthy. He shows interest and inquires about her chrysanthemums and in response; her face becomes “tight with eagerness” as she carefully describes how to care for the beautiful flowers. Elisa becomes excited and proud of her knowledge and work.
The tinker awakens a sense of love and sexuality in Elisa. She is attracted to him, and as she looks up at him, her “breasts swell passionately” and she is overcome with an urge to touch him. He is the cause of this deep reaction in Elisa. He gives her what she lacks in her own marriage: love, respect and understanding. Elisa does not feel this sexual energy when she is