Figure 89: Sample Student Paper on “Chrysanthemums”

The following sample student paper falls under the glossary comment “Analysis.”

You may access the paper by clicking the “Analysis (Glossary Comment),” “Figures,” “Case Studies,” and “Sample Student Paper” categories.

We use parts of the paper as sample excerpts for multiple glossary comments.

You may print the paper for class discussions.

Figure 89: Sample Student Paper on “Chrysanthemums”

Regina Y. Favors

Professor Cost

English 208

23 February 1999


          In “Chrysanthemums” John Steinbeck, the author, focuses on Elisa Allen, one of the main characters.  She is presented as weak in that her daily activity consisted of tending her garden of chrysanthemums; Steinbeck focuses on how they provide insight into Elisa and how she relates to them, religiously.  He implies that even though she fits a weak character, there are places in the narrative at the beginning that suggest some strong points and her longing towards the end.  There are a number of inferences that Steinbeck clearly illustrates how she is presented as weak and should therefore be discussed.

The narrative starts out with Elisa working in her flower garden.  She looks down across the yard and sees Henry, her husband, talking to two businessmen; they are making a proposition to Henry for his thirty heads of three-year old steers.  Elisa takes several glances at the men as they smoke cigarettes and talk; her “face was lean and strong and her eyes were as clear as water . . . her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume, a man’s black hat pulled down over her eyes, clod-hopper shoes, a figured print dress almost completely covered by a big corduroy apron with four big pockets . . .” (Steinbeck 220).  Steinbeck clearly shows Elisa’s habitual activity; it is implied that she even wears the exact same thing everyday.

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.

Henry follows, after Elisa starts gardening, by commenting on how well she’s done.  He recognizes that she does have a gift and she replies in a tone unheard as very sure of herself.

Elisa continues gardening when she is approached by a visitor in a wagon off his usual road.  They both exchange words and humor and Elisa gives him the directions back onto the road.  The visitor claims he’s in no hurry to leave and leans over her fence.  He asks her if she noticed the writing on his wagon; “I mend pots and sharpen knives and scissors . . .” (Steinbeck 223).  He told Elisa that he hadn’t had anything to do all day.  He reminds her that he’s off his general road and that normally he would have work today.  Elisa became annoyed at his request.  It wasn’t until he looked down at her chrysanthemums and commented on them, that she let down her guard.  “The irritation and resistance melted from Elisa’s face” (Steinbeck 223).  In order to get what he wanted the visitor told Elisa exactly what she wanted to hear; he changed his tone quickly and agreed with whatever she said.  He even went as far as telling her that there was a woman down the road who had everything in her garden except for chrysanthemums; the woman, he referred to, told him if he ever came across anyone with some chrysanthemums, to get her some seeds (Steinbeck 224).  Elisa instantly grew eager.  It never dawned on her that he had said not once, but twice that he was off his general road.  Since he was off is general road, he couldn’t have known which way or the other if there was a woman down the road.

Elisa, inadvertently, let the visitor through the picket gate.  She ran to her flower bed gathering the necessary seeds for the pretend woman down the road.  She gives the visitor a complete description of how to plant the seeds and the daily activity that goes along with it.  After he tells Elisa that it’s not nice to see the stars and listen to the quiet without dinner, ashamed, she is forced to find something for the visitor to do.  The visitor’s manner changes and he becomes professional when Elisa brings him two old aluminum saucepans; “Good as new I can fix them. . . . His mouth grew sure and knowing” (Steinbeck 225).

Steinbeck presents Elisa as inquisitive and strong-minded when it comes to thoughts, but fails on her actions.  Elisa questions the visitor as to whether or not he sleeps in the wagon; she tells him that it must be nice and wishes that women could do such things.  He replies that it isn’t the kind of place for a woman.  On the defensive, she questions his knowledge on his stated opinion.  He responds in protest that he doesn’t know and hands over the saucepans hurriedly.  He didn’t want to argue with her.  Elisa paid him for his time and replied, “You might be surprised to have a rival . . . I can sharpen scissors . . . I can beat the dents . . . I can show you what a woman might do” (Steinbeck 225).  Instead of say what a woman can do, she said might.  The whole objective of the visitor was to get what he wanted and be on his way.  He never concerned himself with the chrysanthemums.  It was apparent, because when he gathered up his things to leave, he had forgotten about the chrysanthemums; and Elisa failed to notice.  She was so preoccupied with the compliments made to her about her flowers she played into his deception.  As he left, she mumbled aloud, “That’s a bright direction.  There’s a glowing there” (Steinbeck 226).

Steinbeck shows Elisa startled by her own whisper; she ran back into the house and prepared for Henry’s arrival and their departure into town. In this part of the narrative, Elisa is exhaustively making preparations.  After her shower, “she puts on her newest under-clothing and her nicest stockings and the dress which was the symbol of her prettiness.  She worked carefully on her hair, penciled her eyebrows and roughed her lips” (Steinbeck 226).  Before, as stated earlier, Steinbeck shows Elisa as representing a man through her attire.  Now the dress symbolizes, as the author states, her prettiness; or the more appealing, attractive part of Elisa.  Henry comes in and comments on how nice she looks.  She questions his motive and he returns dumbfounded.  He comments again on how strong she looks and she replies, “I am strong?  Yes, strong . . . I never knew before how strong . . .” (Steinbeck 226).  It is clear that even though she concludes that she is strong, she still doesn’t feel it because she had to question first and answer later.

They both leave and Elisa notices the visitor as they pass him on the road.  She tried not to look, but did anyway.  She failed to tell Henry that he’d stopped by.  She comments that their outing would be good tonight; Henry instantly noticed that she had changed again.  Elisa notices the plants on the side of the road that the visitor throws out.  She immediately feels rejected and defeated.

Elisa is clearly painted as a weak character.  She is a lonely and detached woman.  The chrysanthemums created a distraction from her loneliness, her isolation because of the fence around her, and the feelings of inadequacy.  Towards the end she questions whether or not she is strong.  Steinbeck provides a clear insight into Elisa and her garden of chrysanthemums.  Henry places a protective hold on Elisa, just as she is possessive over her chrysanthemums.  Elisa started out as strong, but ended up as weak and somewhat resentful to the fact.


Click the link to download the document.

The Favors Glossary Sample Student Paper on Chrysanthemums (FOR CLASSROOM USE ONLY)

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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