This short story was published during the aftermath of the women’s rights movement and during WW2. John Steinbeck cared about the political and societal malpractices and portrayed his views in his writings. This short story belongs in a collection called The Long Valley.
Elisa Allen is working on her garden and she sees her husband, Henry, speaking with two men about selling his steers. The garden bed and the house are called to attention and it is pointed out that they are very clean and organized. Once the strangers leave, Henry comes over to her and politely praises her on how lovely the garden looks and then wishes that she would attend to the orchards in the same way. She at first is egger to help but realizes that he was joking. Henry says they should celebrate by going to town and jokingly suggests seeing a fight, to which Elisa turns down. Henry leaves and a wagon pulls up with a charming, yet uneducated, tinker. They joke about the ferocity of the dogs. He asks for work to pay to feed his self and Elisa denies that there is work for him to do. He notices the chrysanthemums and tells her that he has a client that wants to raise some. She suddenly is excited and begins to ready some plants for him to take with him, and she instructs him on how to take care of them. She expresses her passion and her connection to the flowers in a seductive manner, even to the point of wanting to have physical contact with the tinker. She refrains from touching. The tinker points out that it’s hard to feel that way when hungry. Elisa gives in and finds something for him to work on. As the tinker works, Elisa expresses her opinion that women can do that same kind of work he does, to which he says it would be to lonely and tiresome. She pays him 50 cents and he leaves, with her reminding him about the flowers. She showers and changes clothes, puts on makeup, and does her hair. Henry come home and seems surprised by her beauty. He comments on her change of attitude, being happy, and she seems happy. She does all the house wife chores and they leave for the town. On the side of the road, Elisa notices the plants she had given the tinker were just unceremoniously dumped and left. Henry notices the change in her mood and asks, but she just brushes it off and says they should go out more often. She asks if they could have wine with dinner and talks about if women go to the fights. She hides her face as she cries.
Several themes and symbols are prevalent in this story. Elisa is a representation of women in the 1920’s. She is a stereotypical housewife. Women were perceived as objects and not people that have thoughts and feelings. Intellectual women had an even worse time than others. When she learned of the tinkers glamorous lifestyle (compared to hers), she envied him. Even just discussing the idea of a working woman was ludicrous to him. Henry and the tinker represent the paternalism of the era. Henry only tells her the workings of...