Let's be honest. Steinbeck didn't get a stroke of creative genius with this one. Elisa's chrysanthemums are at the heart of the story. But to be fair, he could have named the story "Elisa" or "A Visit from a Tinker," so maybe it's worth discussing the title a bit. It'll just take a sec – we promise.
First, there's the obvious. Chrysanthemums are Elisa's flower. Just what they represent to Elisa is of central importance in the story. For more this, check out the "Symbols" section.
It might also help to know a bit about the flowers themselves. In Greek, the word chrysanthemum means "golden flower." And in the United States, they're often associated with friendliness and cheerfulness, which makes sense if you know what they look like; they're big and bright with tons of petals.
But what does this mean in terms of the story? The chrysanthemums are friendly in the sense that they provide a way for the tinker to connect with Elisa. They act as an icebreaker for the pair. Of course, he's only interested in her business, but she's so thrilled by his interest that she immediately turns friendly, welcoming, even flirty. Perhaps it's best to think of the chrysanthemums as the objects around which all of the events in the story revolve – they are an opportunity for things to happen, an occasion for more meaningful events.