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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Student Question

What does Elisa's phrase, "That's a bright direction. There's a glowing there," mean in The Chrysanthemums?

Quick answer:

Elisa's phrase, "That's a bright direction. There's a glowing there," reflects her longing for the adventurous and free lifestyle of the tinker. While he can wander freely, Elisa feels tied to her farm and societal expectations, making her life seem dull. The "bright direction" symbolizes the exciting and beautiful, yet dangerous, possibilities that she yearns for but cannot pursue.

Expert Answers

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Elisa watches the tinker departing, leaving her behind on the farm. She has become captivated by the prospect of the tinker's adventurous and unpredictable lifestyle—the ability to "sleep right in the wagon" underneath the stars. When she comments that she wishes "women could do such things," the tinker reminds her that "it ain't the right kind of life for a woman."

Elisa's feelings of sexuality culminate when she responds that she "could show [the tinker] what a woman might do," but he thanks her and leaves. Left alone with unfulfilled desires, Elisa comments that he is headed off in a "bright direction." This "direction" is one that eludes Elisa, whose own existence is tied to her farm and and to her husband. While the tinker enjoys the freedom to wander in any direction he chooses, Elisa's life follows her commitments and the expectations of society. There is a part of her that desperately longs for adventure, which is a "glowing" prospect that connotes both danger and beauty. By contrast, Elisa feels that her own life is dull and stifles her feminine strengths.

Elisa is "startled" by these words which she whispers aloud and then looks around to make sure no one else has heard her. Until this encounter with the tinker, Elisa had not fully considered how much she longed for the "bright directions" that might lead her life down more adventurous paths, and the idea fills her with a new sense of feminine energy.

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