illustrated profile of a woman's head with cracks running through it set against a chrysanthemum background

The Chrysanthemums

by John Steinbeck

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What effect does the visit from the peddler have on Eliza?

Does Eliza feels better off or worse off because of her encounter with the peddler?

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Although Eliza has convinced herself that she is content with her life, caring for her chrysanthemums and her husband, the slightest encounter from the outside world gives her pause. The mild interest the peddler takes in her flowers would be dismissed if she had not been so extremely needy. As readers, we wince as Eliza gushes over her flowers and her pressing of the flowers for the peddler's other clients. We know that he is only buttering her up to make the sale, but Eliza is desperate for attention. Her marriage is, at best, tolerable. When she sees her broken pot and her lovingly tended flowers strewn on the road, it is as if the peddler has discarded her heart.

Whether she is worse off or not is debatable, though we certainly feel her pain. One could argue that she has been snapped out of her complacency, but the pain is so raw that this is hard to see.

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