Eliza's epiphany in the short story "The Chrysanthemums" by John Steinbeck might lie in her realization that men often treat women as things to be used to different ends. Sometimes those ends are the obvious ones, but other times human beings manipulate each other for much more devious purposes and travelling handymen, or tinkers as they used to be called, have gotten a bad press down through history for using certain tactics to get what they want or need. Eliza is maybe the sort of passive person who is easily targeted due to inexperience and low self-esteem. She wants to be wanted, she needs to be useful or valued. Con men have sometimes been clever in exploiting this trait to get money, work or goods by using flattery and charm on vulnerable people.
This is just my opinion and what I got out of the story when I read it.
Throughout the whole story Elisa wants to be something more than she is. She wants to be important. Which is why she is upset that she isn't included in the deal her husband makes.
When the salesman comes Elisa has a chance to show her knowledge and be the one in control. She feels like a part of her hard work is being brought beyond her farm and out into the world. She feels important because she can do something that another couldn't and she got to show her expertise.
After the salesman leaves she has a change of character because she feels strong and empowered. She feels like she DOES have purpose and she IS important. Hence she becomes more assertive with her husband.
When she sees the flowers on the side of the road her epiphany is basically that she will never ammount to anything more than what she already is. Her hard work was litteraly cast to the side of the road. She realizes that she is not important and never had any power, quite the opposite. So she reverts to her old ways and tells her husband that they will go to the fight and gives up any illusions of having any power.
The salesman obviously is the villain in the story but he's a lot smarter than you would think. He realizes that giving Elisa the illusion of having the upperhand he can make her do whatever he wants. He uses sexual innuendos and references to make her think that he is attracted to her. What woman doesn't feel like she has the upper hand when you know a man is attracted to you?
Now this is all just my opinion but I think it does makes sense. The whole story is about having importance and power and the realization that she neither.
It can be assumed that the handyman lied to her for the pot that he could get a few cents for, which after the great depression he could really use. Also, the conversation between the handyman and Elisa is very sexual. I personally thing that Elisa thought that she had learned something about herself from this conversation, and then after seeing the flowers found it all to be a lie. Those are my thoughts im not sure how good they are though.