Why does the tinker throw away the chrysanthemums?(i.e. What is the significance of that act--for him and for Elisa?) John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When the tinker arrives on the Allen farm, his main objective is to be able to repair something so that he can earn money.  After Elisa tells him that she has nothing in need of repair, he does not leave; instead, he uses his skills as a salesman and opportunist by cajoling her into talking about her beloved chrysanthemums.  When he sounds poetic in his description of them--"Looks like a quick puff of colored smoke"--Elisa's aesthetic nature is awakened and excited.  Of course, the tinker then takes advantage of this awakening and feigns an interest in the flowers, saying that he would love to take some to a lady down the road that he knows.

With shining eyes and an awakened spirit, Elisa gladly puts some of the chrysanthemums in a pot for the tinker to give to his friend.  As he drives off after Elisa has given him some work, she feels alive and encouraged that he will give the flowers to the lady.  However, as she and her husband travel the road later on their way to supper in town, Elisa spots the discarded chrysanthemums on the side of the road. 

Elisa feels betrayed at the sight of the mutilated chrysanthemums. She turns from her husband so that he will not see her crying "weakly--like an old woman."  Elisa has been humiliated by the sight of the flower for which she has become so excited in its promise of bloom and life; instead, her aesthetic passion and connection of spirit with nature has been ridiculed and sullied.  Towards both men, the tinker and her husband, she is now frustrated.

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The Chrysanthemums

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