The Chrysanthemums Questions and Answers
by John Steinbeck

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In "The Chrysanthemums" by John Steinbeck, who says the line, "Looks like a quick puff of colored smoke"?

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The quote that you are looking for can be found about halfway through this John Steinbeck story, and the quote is said by the stranger that comes to visit Elisa and Henry Allen's ranch. Most articles name this stranger "the tinker"; however, the story never actually names him or identifies him as anything more than a stranger or traveler. The tinker shows up at the Allen's house, and he explains what he does and why he is traveling by their property. He then asks if Elisa has anything that she needs mended. Elisa says that she doesn't, but the tinker continues to press and eventually resorts to a mixture of begging and whining.

"All right, then. Take a pot," he continued earnestly, "a bent pot, or a pot with a hole. I can make it like new so you don't have to buy no new ones. That's a saving for you.

"No," she said shortly. "I tell you I have nothing like that for you to do."

His face fell to an exaggerated sadness. His voice took on a whining undertone. "I ain't had a thing to do today. Maybe I won't have no supper tonight."

Elisa holds firm, and the tinker is left with nothing more to comment on than the flowers. When he does so, the tinker realizes that he has found his opening.

The irritation and resistance melted from Elisa's face.

He says and acts in a way that makes it clear that he is using this small talk to get himself some work. Notice how he comments on the bad smell of the flowers, but then he changes his mind about the smell.

"They smell kind of nasty till you get used to them," he said.

"It's a good bitter smell," she retorted, "not nasty at all."

He changed his tone quickly. "I like the smell myself."

His smooth talking about the flowers is enough to ingratiate himself to the point where Elisa hands him some work to do.

"Here. Put it in your wagon, on the seat, where you can watch it. Maybe I can find something for you to do."

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These words are the inquiry of the tinker who speaks with Elisa Allan in John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums."  After Elisa tells him that she has nothing for him to repair, the tinker looks at the chrysanthemum bed where Elisa has been working.  He asks what kind of plant they are.  Delighted that someone shows interest in her flowers, Elisa replies that they are chrysanthemums that she raises every year.  Then the tinker asks,

"Kind of a long-stemmed flower?  Looks like a quick puff of colored smoke!"

With this simile, Elisa is delighted by the figurative language and the man's imagination in contrast to her husband's literal and pratical language.  When the tinker expresses a desire to have some of the chrysanthemums' seeds, Elisa eagerly replies that she can put some in damp sand for him to carry with him.  The excitement of Elisa as she pots some of the flowers for the tinker indicates how starved she has been for "a quick puff of colored smoke" of imagination.

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