We don't know about you, but when we got to the ending, we were pretty blown away. It's devastating in its simplicity and its ambiguity. Let's break it down.
Elisa can't be feeling too happy about the fact that the tinker tossed her flowers, and she can't even face him when their car passes his wagon. Instead, she turns to Henry and asks for wine at dinner. What a small consolation. Tempted by the fights, she realizes that's too much excitement for her unexciting life. She'll settle for the wine.
Now for the real ending. Friends, it's not a happy one. She has turned away from the tinker. She has turned away from Henry. She cries quietly in the confines of a car "like an old woman" (122).
Okay, so thirty-five is not exactly young (and to the average high schooler, it probably feels pretty darn ancient) But Elisa is hardly an old woman. So why compare her to one?
Here's an idea. Maybe she really is old. Elisa's life likely won't get all that more interesting. For her, growing old means day after day of the same old thing. So there's really not much of a difference between thirty-five year-old Elisa and eighty-five year-old Elisa. She'll still be tending garden and keeping house. It's almost as if she's grown old already, without ever really growing at all.
Of course, that's just our theory. Steinbeck's story is so multi-faceted and open-ended, it's hard to settle on just one solid reading. So tell us, what do you think?