Reading and Discussion Questions on John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums"

1. Read the first two paragraphs carefully. In what way does the setting of the story foreshadow what follows?

2. Describe Elisa as a character. What kind of person is she?

3. We see Elisa talk to Henry at the beginning and again at the end of the story. What kind of relationship does she have with Henry? What is his view of her? Why is he so confused when she protests at being called "strong"?

4. Why does Steinbeck spend so much time describing Elisa's clothes? How does her clothing change as the story progresses?

5. In what ways is the tinker a contrast to Elisa? What might he represent for her? Is he sincere, or is he just a con man? Are there any ways in which they are alike? (Note: Study their conversation carefully for clues.)

6. What is the purpose of including the dogs in the story?

7. What do the chrysanthemums symbolize in this story? Would you say that they are a universal symbol or a contextual symbol? What do they mean to Elisa? Are there other symbolic elements?

8. What are "planting hands"? Does the tinker understand her explanation of them?

9. After the tinker leaves, what does Elisa do, and why? Why do her actions and speeches confuse Henry?

10. Why does Elisa want to see a fight at the end of the story? Why does she begin to cry?