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The Chrysanthemums

The Chrysanthemums


by John Steinbeck

Henry Allen

Character Analysis

Honestly, we can't help but feel a little sorry for the dude. A well-meaning rancher and husband to our Elisa, he seems downright bewildered by his own wife.

When he jokes about going to the fights and Elisa shoots him down, he has to reassure her that he was kidding (22). And when he tries to tell Elisa she looks nice for their night out, she practically bites his head off:

Henry came banging out of the door, shoving his tie inside his vest as he came. Elisa stiffened and her face grew tight. Henry stopped short and looked at her. "Why – why, Elisa. You look so nice!"

"Nice? You think I look nice? What do you mean by 'nice'?"

Henry blundered on. "I don't know. I mean you look different, strong and happy."

"I am strong? Yes, strong. What do you mean 'strong'?"

He looked bewildered. "You're playing some kind of a game," he said helplessly. "It's a kind of a play. You look strong enough to break a calf over your knee, happy enough to eat it like a watermelon." (100-104)

Poor guy. He can't catch a break. He's just trying to pay his wife a compliment, right? So we can understand why he seems so frustrated when she doesn't say "thanks, sweetie" and hop in the car. When she questions him, he's like a deer in the headlights, blundering and bewildered. He thinks his wife is playing a game, perhaps because he's too simple or oblivious to understand what's going on in Elisa's mysterious mind.

He may be a good provider and a relatively attentive husband (although we can't actually prove this), but he still can't figure out what his wife wants.

Coming Up Short

Could that be precisely the point? Henry harps on Elisa's mood swings, complaining, "Now you've changed again" (113). He tries his hardest to make her happy, but she still can't seem to be satisfied. Henry the husband just isn't enough, which makes Henry the character all the more effective in spotlighting Elisa's general dissatisfaction with her life. If Henry can't fulfill her, who or what can?