by John Steinbeck
The Chrysanthemums Theme of Isolation
From start to finish, Elisa is alone: physically, emotionally, sexually. Perhaps it's that loneliness that leads to dissatisfaction with her life, or perhaps her dissatisfaction sparks her loneliness. It's also important to note that part of what makes Elisa so lonely is the simple fact that she's a woman. While the men do business and work the ranch, Elisa gardens and cleans. Everything changes when the tinker disrupts her usual solitude. It is when her isolation is broken that the story truly begins to unfold.
Questions About Isolation
- Who do you think is lonelier? Elisa or the tinker?
- Is there a difference in the way Elisa handles the chrysanthemums in the beginning, when she's alone, and the way she handles them when she's with the tinker?
- Take a look at the two moments in the text when Elisa whispers to herself. Are these instances of isolation? How are these moments similar and/or different?
- Is there a moment in the story when Elisa isn't truly alone (in an emotional sense)?
Chew on This
Elisa is never alone when she's with her chrysanthemums. They provide her a comfort and companionship she can't find with men.
The tinker is the force that causes Elisa to become aware of and confront her isolation.