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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Why does the traveling salesman take an interest in Elisa's chrysanthemums?

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The tinker who passes by Elisa and Henry Allen's farm is looking to sell Elisa his services. He is a mender of pots and a sharpener of scissors and knives. He is not really interested in Elisa's spectacular flower bed of chrysanthemums, but as a salesman, he understands that to make a sale he first has to get Elisa to let down her guard. She rebuffs his first sales pitch, but he is savvy enough to know that if he can get her to talk to him, he has a much better chance of getting some work from her. He quickly sees that she is proud of her garden, and in striking up a conversation about her flowers he is able to soften her stance toward him, and ultimately, she does give him a pot to mend. The fact that she later sees, laying in the road, the the chrysanthemums that she gave him, proves that he was never interested in the flowers, and that to him, she was just another customer.

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The only reason the tinker (the traveling salesman) takes interest in Elisa's chrysanthemums is because he is trying to get her business!  He is trying to get her to give him some pots to mend.  SO, he is merely lying and being deceitful in order to make some money.  We know this because he has thrown her chrysanthemum in the road at the end of the story, and Elisa sees this and breaks down and cries.

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