Case Study: “Chrysanthemums”

Our first case study begins with an exploration of one sample excerpt on the topic of Steinbeck’s “Chrysanthemums.”

What you will find in this excerpt is the student’s tendency to offer more plot summary than analysis. Through a series of rhetorical questioning, we show you how important it is to develop a thought fully, to provide a follow-up explanation for quotes, and to explore the implication of a character’s action as a method for further developing the body paragraphs and the analysis.

This case study falls under “Analysis,” which is the longest comment of the glossary.

Sample Excerpt

Elisa continues to glance down at the tractor shed where the men where.  There is an anxiousness in Elisa. Her “face was eager . . . mature . . . handsome; even her work with the scissors was over-eager, over-powerful. The chrysanthemum stems seemed too small and easy for her energy” (Steinbeck 221). Steinbeck paints a clear picture as to how religiously Elisa tends her garden. She takes off her glove and places her hands down into the soil.  She recognizes that her flowers hadn’t completely bloomed. She starts tending her garden at the sound of her husband’s voice. “He had come near quietly, and he leaned over the wire fence that protected her flower garden from cattle and dogs, and chickens” (Steinbeck 221).  It is evident that the fence that protected the flowers was put there also to protect Elisa. It is also clear to say that the protection from the cattle, dogs, and chickens symbolizes protection from outsiders. Henry protected Elisa in the same way she protected her flowers. No one could get close or converse with Elisa. At the sound of his voice is when she can start. Everything had become so traditional that she had become accustomed to waiting until he finished his business to start her daily activity. Henry never included her in any of his business. She was best seen and not heard.

Figure 70: Essay Excerpt on Elisa, “Chrysanthemums”


The student writer offers plot summary and doesn’t provide an answer for the following questions.


1) What is eager about Elisa’s face?

2) What is symbolic about Elisa’s flowers not completely reaching full bloom? Is the author still writing about flowers?

3) Why does Elisa start tending the garden at the sound of Henry’s voice? What is symbolic about her husband’s voice?

4) What is significant about this quote? What does the “fence” represent?

5) If Elisa protects her flowers in the same way that her husband protects her, then what is the implication of this?

6) What does it mean to be “best seen and not heard”?


As you have undoubtedly learned from the previous comments, until you can answer all of these questions, you have not fully analyzed the text. You have not taught the reader anything. That’s right. In the body paragraphs, you are supposed to teach the reader.

You can summarize the introduction. You can summarize the conclusion. However, you must teach in the body paragraphs so you can leave your reader with an understanding of the character “Elisa,” Steinbeck’s view of her through other characters, and her relationships with other external characters.

As you journey through this comment, just remember that you are in the teaching business. You may not be a teacher, but you teach nonetheless. Therefore, consider this idea as important to every writing assignment you will have to complete in college and professionally. Let’s continue.

Click here for “Steps to Developing an Analysis.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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