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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What does the "speck of dirt" Elisa finds in "The Chrysanthemums" reveal about her encounter with the wagon man?

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Elisa had carefully prepared chrysanthemum shoots for the salesman to deliver too the woman down the road who had told him she wished she could have some. Elisa gave instructions for the care and pruning of the flowers so he could pass the information along. As she was sharing this passion of hers with the unknown gardener, Elisa was also imagining a different life for herself - one that allowed for traveling away from the isolated ranch where she lived, one that permitted a person to see things and meet people and be independent. And so, Elisa gave the salesman much more than chrysanthemum shoots - she gave him her dreams.

The "speck of dirt" was left on the road when the salesman dumped the shoots out of their container. Elisa recognized that he had not been able to throw the flowers off the roadway, so left them where they landed as he kept the pot so he could sell it later.

She whispered to herself sadly, “He might have thrown them off the road. That wouldn’t have been much trouble, not very much. But he kept the pot,” she explained. “He had to keep the pot. That’s why he couldn’t get them off the road.”

In seeing the flowers dumped on the road, Elisa was also seeing the futility of dreaming about going to other places and doing other things. Elisa's life was going to continue as it had always been - the most excitement she was going to have would be drinking wine along with her meal at the Cominos Hotel. Her time with the salesman had been wasted in useless dreaming.

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