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The Chrysanthemums

The Chrysanthemums


by John Steinbeck

Analysis: Writing Style

Simple, Sparse, Terse, Spare, Concise

All right, all right. You get the idea.

Steinbeck uses a few words to cram in a lot of meaning and depth. The whole story is like a dense and delicious brownie that just gets richer with every bite and is finished far too soon. With just an adjective here and an adverb there (we're thinking of words like alert, eager, excitedly, searchingly, passionately), Steinbeck deftly portrays Elisa's awakening during her encounter with the tinker.

Plus, think of the ending. With a single simile, "like an old woman," (122), Steinbeck shows us Elisa's sense of loss and grief. She's a trapped woman, and she's already grown old. Is she old because she knows she has given up a life of adventure and freedom? Is she old because she is past her youthful prime and hasn't had any children? Is she old because she already knows what her whole life will be like? (For more on this, check out "What's up with the Ending?".) Steinbeck manages to pack all these possibilities in four little words, and a whole lot more in this short short story.

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