What are the major conflicts in "The Chrysanthemums"?
The most important conflict in the story is the limitation of Elisa's life as a woman isolated on a small farm in the Salinas Valley in the years after the Depression. Confined by gender roles to work within the boundaries of the farm while the men enjoy more freedom and mobility, Elisa's longings are awakened when the tinker comes by and describes his journeyman lifestyle. She responds wistfully, "That sounds like a nice way to live".
A second major conflict is Elisa's deep aesthetic approach to life which cannot be shared. Her husband Henry, a good man who loves his wife, unfortunately sees everything from a functional point of view. Elisa's attempts to dress up and make herself pretty are lost on him, as are her efforts to get him to appreciate the astounding beauty of her beloved chrysanthemums, the expression of her aesthetic sense. Elisa's hunger to share this essential part of her nature is such that, when the tinker appears to understand her passion for her flowers, she responds with an excitement that approaches the sublime. Sadly, when she discovers that he has discarded the chrysanthemum she gave him carelessly on the road, she realizes that his interest was contrived, and is left more alone and frustrated than before.