In "The Chrysanthemums," what is Elisa and Henry's marriage like?
Elisa and Henry's marriage is a steady one, but it lacks intimacy and passion. Both are too absorbed in keeping up appearances with each other to engage in honest dialogue. In the story, Henry suggests that he and Elisa go out to celebrate after he manages to get a good price for thirty of his three-year-old steers.
Elisa's response is polite but lacking in enthusiasm. She says everything a wife is supposed to say. However, she is clearly unhappy. While her husband takes his bath, she lays out his clothes on the bed and deposits his polished shoes next to the bed. Then, she sits "primly and stiffly down" to wait for him on the porch. When Henry appears, he is surprised to see that his wife looks "different." Blindsided by the apparent change in her manner, he blurts out that she looks "strong and happy." However, Elisa is disturbed by his description of her. She demands to know what he means by his words.
For his part, Henry senses that he's said something amiss, but he doesn't know what it is. He pleads that Elisa is "playing some kind of a game." Helplessly, he maintains that she looks "strong enough to break a calf" over her knee and "happy enough to eat it like a watermelon." However, Elisa is clearly distressed by her husband's characterization of her; he seems to have masculinized her beyond anything polite conventions would allow.
Yet, Elisa is also pleased by what Henry says:
"I'm strong," she boasted. "I never knew before how strong."
During the drive into town, Elisa takes a chance and asks about the prize fights that men attend. She wants to know whether the fighters hurt each other very much and whether women attend the fights. When she admits that she reads about the fights, Henry is shocked. He has never seen Elisa display such emotion or enthusiasm about fights. In fact, when he earlier joked about attending a fight, Elisa had reacted with the customary woman's horror at being subjected to such indignities.
Now, Henry is simply perplexed that Elisa has suddenly shown an interest in prize fighting.
"Oh, sure, some. What's the matter, Elisa? Do you want to go? I don't think you'd like it, but I'll take you if you really want to go.” She relaxed limply in the seat. "Oh, no. No. I don't want to go. I'm sure I don't."
Here, we can see that Elisa isn't yet ready to acknowledge her true self to Henry. She is possibly afraid that he will view her less positively if she admits that she would like to accompany him to the fights. Although Elisa and Henry are clearly loyal to each other, there is little intimate connection between them. For Elisa's part, she is circumscribed by her fear of rejection; so she hides her true self from her husband. For his part, Henry is perplexed by his wife's seemingly strange moods. He talks about her "changing" but is clueless as to what this means. Neither knows how to bridge the emotional divide between them, and this leads to feelings of resentment and confusion.
Henry is a good man, but something is lacking for Elisa. She was drawn in by the traveler's flattery. She welcomed the conversation about what she was passionate about (the Chrysanthemums) as if she never had a chance to share it before, or at least not recently. If she felt secure and valued in her relationship with Henry, she would not have been so vulnerable. Their marriage is surely lacking in communication and true fellowship, although they clearly depend on eachother and both work hard to ensure the day to day things are taken care of. It seems that they just have "lost touch" when it comes to their emotional bonds.
Elisa and Henry have a solid relationship. They are both hardworking and "strong" people. Their relationship, while not really discussed, seems a little stiff. They decide to go out to dinner together that evening, and when Henry sees his wife dressed up he tells her she "looks nice." She doesn't know how to take this complement and becomes defensive. Henry knows Elisa is "waiting for something" but he doesn't know what to say. Over all these two people live from day to day loving each other, depending on each other, but not really understanding each other.