Elisa Allen is the story's protagonist, a thirty-five-year-old woman who lives on a ranch in the Salinas Valley with her husband Henry. She is lean and strong, and wears shapeless, functional clothes. The couple have no children, no near neighbors, and Henry is busy doing chores on the ranch throughout the day. Elisa fills her hours by vigorously cleaning the ''hard-swept looking little house, with hard-polished windows,’’ and by tending her flower garden. She has ''a gift'' for growing things, and she is proud of it. For the most part, Elisa seems satisfied with her life. When the traveling tinker comes along and talks about his wandering habits, she begins to think about how limited her life is, and she longs for adventure. The idea that her chrysanthemums will be shared with a stranger who will appreciate them gratifies her, makes her think that in a small way she is part of a larger world. When the man betrays her by throwing away the chrysanthemums, he makes it clear that her world extends only as far as the boundaries of the ranch.
Henry Allen is Elisa's husband, a hard-working and successful small-scale rancher. As the story opens, he has completed the sale of thirty steer, and he wants to celebrate with Elisa. He suggests an evening in town, with dinner and a movie, and compliments her on her gardening skills. But there is no intimacy in his talk; the two are serious and formal with each other,...
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