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Epiphany of Elisa in John Steinbeck's The Chrysanthemums

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Epiphany of Elisa in John Steinbeck's The Chrysanthemums


John Steinbeck described Elisa Allen in "The Chrysanthemums" only with her language and actions. From these, the reader gathers that Elisa is strong, lean, and eager; the way she talks confidently about her chrysanthemums not only shows her confidence, but her way of filling the void of intimacy in her marriage. However, by the end of the story, the reader finds Elisa completely different, signifying the toll her epiphany has had on her.

When the peddler arrives at Elisa's house, he seems very avid to do some work for her; she becomes irritated with his persistence, but soon changes. Once he begins to act interested and appreciative of her chrysanthemums (even requests for some sprouts), she begins to feel appreciated by him and lets her guard down. Removing her bulky clothes and transforming into a feminine woman in time to go out with her husband proves this change has occurred. Some people might think this was the place Elisa had her epiphany. I think differently

Not far down the road, she discovers the sprouts she gave graciously to the peddler on the ground. During those crucial moments of telling herself why he threw them out and purposefully ignoring the peddler's caravan, Elisa has several sudden revelations: epiphanies. She realizes the man she thought truly valued her flowers simply feigned this interest to get what he wanted and then threw them out, causing her to feel thrown out and used. His disrespect for beautiful things also crosses her mind and she discovers she may never find someone to share the feelings she has for beauty. And finally, just as her chrysanthemums never made it far from the ranch, she knows her own desires to roam beyond the limitations of her home, perhaps even her marriage, are destroyed.

These insights cause Elisa's entire demeanor to change. She not only lacks her strong and confident manner, but she also lacks her feelings of being beautiful and desired. Her husband notices the difference once she begins speaking. After she remains silent, then talks randomly about fights, Elisa finally gives into her emotions. Shrinking into her coat collar to cry "like an old woman," Steinbeck reveals a weak woman, crushed by her lack of self-confidence.

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