The Chrysanthemums Questions and Answers
by John Steinbeck

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What is the significance of the traveling repair man? "The Chrysanthemums" by John Steinbeck

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In John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums," the traveling repair man ignites the repressed passion in Elisa as well as her other hidden qualities.  When he arrives he finds Elisa unreceptive to him; then, he notices her flowers and notices the "irritation and resistance" leave her face when he asks about them.  Detecting her love for these flowers, the tinker feigns interest in them, encouraging Elisa to talk about them.

Pretending that he wants to give a woman who lives down the road some chrysanthemums, the tinker says,  "Oh, ...I's'pose I can't take none to her, then" when Elisa tells him the flowers cannot be raised from seed.  But, Elisa offers to put some in damp sand for him to carry with him.  Gladly, the tinker accepts.

Excitedly, Elisa finds a pot and fills it as she discusses her passion for the flowers and their beauty. As she talks Elisa's voice grows husky and she gets a little carried away in her passion as she reaches for the man's pant leg and touches it.  Then, she stands, "her face was ashamed." Nevertheless, she feels expanded in her sexual feelings.

After the tinker leaves, Elisa bathes, more conscious of her womanliness than before the man has come.  Even her husband notices, telling her how nice she looks.  Elisa is encouraged that she her and husband can spend a loving evening together as man and woman; however along the way, she spots the chrysanthemums and its pot cast off onto the road. Feeling that she has been used, Elisa turns from her husband so he will not see her cry for her exploited passion. This rejection by the tinker makes Elisa feel repressed and limited again.

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