Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Elisa Allen, a woman approaching middle age, is at a point in her life when she has begun to realize that her energy and creative drive far exceed the opportunities for their expression. Her marriage is reasonably happy—when she notices that her husband is proud of selling thirty head of steers he has raised, she gives him the compliment he hopes for, while he, in turn, appreciates her ability to grow flowers of exceptional quality. There is an easy banter between them, and while they have settled into a fairly familiar routine, they are still responsive to each other’s moods, and eager to celebrate an achievement in each other’s company with a night on the town. On the other hand, their marriage is childless, and Elisa generally wears bland, bulging clothes that tend to de-sex her. Their house is described as “hard-swept” and “hard-polished”; it is the only outlet for her talents and it is an insufficient focus for her energy. She has begun to sense that an important part of her is lying dormant and that the future will be predictable and rather mundane.
Although Elisa would never consider an actual affair, when a stranger appears at their farm offering to sharpen knives and mend pots, his singularity and unconventional appearance immediately arouse her interest. In contrast to her husband, he is a kind of adventurer who lives spontaneously, a man of the road not bound by standard measures of time and place. Because he has found it useful...
(The entire section is 965 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Elisa Allen is at work in the garden on the grounds of a neat farm house she shares with her husband, Henry Allen. It is December, and there is no sunshine. Rather, a “high, gray-flannel” fog hovers over the mountains, causing the valley to seem covered like a lid on a pot. Henry’s fall fieldwork is done, and now begins the time of waiting for rain to rejuvenate the ground. Elisa, however, is cutting back the old chrysanthemum stalks, inspecting the plants for pests, and transplanting sprouts for a new crop.
Elisa, who is thirty-five years old, has a slender and “strong” face with clear eyes. In her work clothes, she seems“heavy” because of their bulkiness. As she works, she is “over-eager, over-powerful,” suggesting masculinity and more energy within her than the tasks at hand require. Even the house is “hard-swept” and the windows are “hard-polished.” Occasionally, Elisa looks at the tractor shed, where her husband is talking business with two men.
Henry’s voice startles Elisa, as he notes the new sprouts and compliments her on having a green thumb—which she acknowledges, believing that she has inherited planters’ hands. Henry reveals that he has sold thirty of his three-year-old steers for a good price and suggests that they celebrate by going into Salinas for dinner and a movie. Perfunctorily, Elisa accepts the invitation, and he teasingly asks her if she would prefer to go to the fights.
(The entire section is 893 words.)
The story opens with a panoramic view of the Salinas Valley in winter, shrouded in fog. The focus narrows and finally settles on Elisa Allen, cutting down the spent stalks of chrysanthemums in the garden on her husband's ranch. Elisa is thirty-five, lean and strong, and she approaches her gardening with great energy. Her husband Henry comes from across the yard, where he has been arranging the sale of thirty steer, and offers to take Elisa to town for dinner and movie to celebrate the sale. He praises her skill with flowers, and she congratulates him on doing well in the negotiations for the steer. They seem a well-matched couple, though their way of talking together is formal and serious. Henry heads off to finish some chores, and Elisa decides to finish her transplanting before they get ready to leave for town.
Soon Elisa hears ‘‘a squeak of wheels and a plod of hoofs,’’ and a man drives up in an old wagon. (He is never named; the narrator calls him simply ‘‘the man.’’) The man is large and dirty, and clearly used to being alone. He earns a meager living fixing pots and sharpening scissors and knives, traveling from San Diego, California, to Seattle, Washington, and back every year. The man chats and jokes with Elisa, who answers his bantering tone but has no work for him to do. When he presses for a small job, she becomes annoyed and tries to send him away.
Suddenly the man's attention is caught by the chrysanthemum stalks...
(The entire section is 560 words.)