How does John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums" begin? 

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junebug614 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The story begins in the Salinas Valley, which is pretty common in several of Steinbeck's stories. Elisa is planting her beloved chrysanthemums when her husband comes to speak with her after he made a deal selling some head of cattle to the Western Meat Company. His delight at receiving "nearly his price" for the cattle is contrasted with the passion that Elisa has with her chrysanthemums. They're perfect - nearly 10 inches across - and require much attention to detail. The story states that they "seemed too small and easy for her energy," and it's clear that Elisa has bigger dreams than simply planting chrysanthemums every year - but right now, the chrysanthemums are what she pours that passion into. This brief interaction between Elisa and Henry shows the reader that Henry doesn't quite get Elisa's true desires in life - he doesn't understand that maintaining the flower bed isn't enough for her to be happy. This interaction sets the stage for Elisa's conversation with the traveling salesman and desire to speak to just about anyone about her passion.

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The Chrysanthemums

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