I think, sometimes, we analyze the joy out of reading stories.
Every critique of Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums” that I’ve read expresses the opinion that this is a story about Elisa Allen, her failed marriage, and her sexual frustrations. Maybe it is. Steinbeck was, himself, married three times, so maybe he was writing from personal experience. If so, then so-be-it and I bow to the expert critics.
Elisa Allen is the main character in this story, but it’s about “the man,” the traveling salesman, and his ability to read people and establish a report with a stranger after only a short acquaintance. He’s been at this game quite awhile and obviously has survived, made enough to support himself, his team, and his dog. He quickly picks up on her deftness with flowers and plays to that and she, like most of us do when someone shows an interest in our hobbies or such, brightens and shines under the attention. He is adept at pattering her behavior and verbalizations and therefore gains her trust. His appearance and apparent vagabond life appeals to her in direct contrast to the mundaneness of everyday married life that afflicts most folks who have been married for any length of time. This is not to say she does appreciate or love her husband or in fact have a satisfying if somewhat boring existence. This is simply a grass is greener scenario. Elisa then becomes the vehicle by which we see the effect of “the man’s” manipulations and the devastating effect that occurs when she sees her chrysanthemums discarded by the wayside and she realizes that she has been played.
I prefer to read stories for their face value, and this tale stands alone as a story of everyday life of those times. Steinbeck is a master story teller and displays his talent here well, like Garrison Keillor does in his tales from Lake Wobegon.
Sometimes a story is just a story, and assigning deeper motives and meanings only serves to make it a different story or a vehicle to foster literary debate.
I wonder what kind of wine Henry and Elisa had with dinner.