by John Steinbeck
Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Neutral, Distant, Wistful
Our narrator's a bit of a snob. We might even call him callous. He's not all that interested in getting touchy-feely, and he's definitely not up for share time. He keeps his distance, allowing the reader to come to his or her own conclusions about the characters and their motivations.
Of course we naturally gravitate toward Elisa, and attempt to understand her feelings above all others. That's because we're nice people. We can sympathize with her restlessness, and we hope she finds the fulfillment she seems to be seeking.
Which brings us to the poignant ending. When Elisa cries "like an old woman," (122) although we don't know exactly why, we can't help but guess that it might be because she's grieving for a life she'll never have – a life those trashed chrysanthemums had come to represent.