In "The Chrysanthemums," do you feel that Elisa encouraged the tinker's sexual insinuation? Why? What in the text makes you think so?

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes, she did although probably from an unconscious place.  There are several physical responses that cannot be controlled that Steinbeck mentions.  When the tinker takes an interest in her work, "(h)er breast swelled passionately"; her "voice grew husky"; her "hand went out toward his legs," (something that had she given thought to she likely would never have done.) 

Eliza is desperate for attention, to be appreciated as a woman and viewed as valuable.  The tinker becomes alarmed at her overt need, especially when her animal-like nature becomes more apparent as "(s)he crouched low like a fawning dog."  For his part, the tinker is just using his well-worn tool of flattery to sell his wares.  Elisa's desperation is more than he can handle or comprehend. 

He tries to back out when Elisa presses forward and wants him to rescue her.  She comes to begging:  "I can sharpen scissors," she insists, "And I can beat the dents out of the little pots.  I could show you want a woman might do."  This response also carries within it the subtle promise of sexual favors.

The tinker begins to truly backpedal. "It would be a lonely life for a woman, ma'am," he says, "and a scary life too."  Convinced that he will never make the sale and moreover that he's getting in far over his head, the tinker takes his leave, but not without a little piece of Elisa's soul:  one of her beloved flowers. 

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The Chrysanthemums

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