Here’s a powerful story written in 1938 and set in the Salinas Valley in California. It’s about Elisa Allen, a thirty-five-year-old farmer’s wife. She’s young and strong, but feels misunderstood and alone in her life. A short dialogue with her husband, Henry, reveals a marriage that is cordial but passionless. Elisa’s love for cultivating chrysanthemums is her only outlet, her way of expressing this disregarded passion.
Something happens when a man in a dilapidated wagon, advertising repairs of “pots, pans, sisors” and “lawn mores” arrives. Despite her initial rejection of the man’s services, there’s an almost immediate attraction. When he asks her about her flowers, Elisa becomes reckless with her words and movements. Their dialogue is filled with second meanings and the full power of her feelings jumps out at you.
Within a small number of pages, Steinbeck shows a clear picture of Elisa’s life and her frustrations. As Elisa and Henry drive into town for dinner that night, the story ends leaving you thinking about what she might do tomorrow.
John Steinbeck was an American writer of novels and short stories. Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden are some of his most widely read books. He’s well-known for portraying California migrant workers during the Depression. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. After literary critics denounced the choice, even Steinbeck said he didn’t think he deserved the award. In 2012, the Nobel Prize committee opened its archives and notes revealed that Steinbeck was a “compromise choice” in a pool of unqualified candidates. Hard to believe!
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