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The Theme of Work and Talent in the Chrysanthemums by John Steinbeck

Updated on April 17, 2012

Short stories have for a long time been used to give teachings, warnings or advice to the society. They include lessons of life that are usually hidden in the story. One of the teachings in this story is the importance of talent and hard work. Elisa put her best foot in taking care of her Chrysanthemums that she was the only one who produced the largest in the entire region. This was a talent he harbored. Apart from Elisa, the wagon man had perfected his skill in repairing broken items and sharpening tools that he had gained the people’s approval on the entire highway and world’s over. Talking about what they loved doing best was like reciting a love story. To them their work was everything that mattered; a person can only acquire this level of enthusiasm if what he/she does is a talent.
John Steinbeck was born in California and took some time attending Stanford University. He worked as a surveyor, a trout Hatcher and a farm worker, his pieces are in one way or another related to farm work. He also spent time writing. Some of the bet known novels was the “Grapes of Wrath” which earned him the Pulitzer Prize in 1940; he was also awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962. Some of his books were made into film. He has a defined style of concentrating on rural setting, giving more focus on realities and having a pessimistic way of looking at things. The Chrysanthemums is a captivating story that clearly defined the life or the rural dwellers.
Salinas is a rich agricultural place, the residents of Salinas are fond of their farms ,the variety of activities that are carried out in Salina range from growing of Chrysanthemums, fruits like apples, oranges, keeping of cattle, horses, steers, chicken dogs and so on .Everyone in Salina seems to love their work and give them full concentration ,be it, taking care of the cattle, planting or repair work. They clearly understand that they have to work hard to be able to earn a living. The author displays this village has one that is full of hardworking citizens who take pride in what they do. For instance at the beginning of the story he shows the concern of the villagers on whether it would rain or not, everyone was hopeful that it would rain “A light wind blew up from the southwest so that the farmers were mildly hopeful of a good rain before long; but fog and rain did not go together”(Steinbeck, line 2)
Steinbeck uses two characters to bring out the theme work talent, Elisa Allen who is portrayed as strong and hardworking, loves working and catering for her chrysanthemums plants .She is 35 years old and is married to Henry .Elisa loves spending time on her chrysanthemums and is in fact the only one who has mastered the art of growing them. She is well equipped with the right tools to take care of the chrysanthemums; she had an apron and had pockets to keep all the tools she needed “covered by a big corduroy apron with four big pockets to hold the snips, the trowel and scratcher, the seeds and the knife she worked with. She wore heavy leather gloves to protect her hands while she worked.” (Steinbeck, line5). Elisa specialized in the growing the plant that not even insects would destroy them; she knew how to deal with them with her strong fingers on time. Her husband is not surprised that she is at it again and acknowledges that it is a gift when he proposes if she can also consider growing apples. She confesses to him that it’s a talent she inherited from her mother. “I've a gift with things, all right. My mother had it. She could stick anything in the ground and make it grow”(Steinbeck ,line 10) .When the wagon man comes along, she rarely gives him attention until after he mentions the chrysanthemums that she becomes alert and kin and is ready to explain to him on how they are managed .Elisa becomes eager and alert and she is quite sure that no one knows how to take care of the crop apart form herself. After she gets some of the chrysanthemums for lady the man had suggested, she gives clear instructions on how the plant is to be handled. On her way to Salinas for dinner with her husband, her mind is on the chrysanthemums she had given the man, were they well taken care of or had the man ignored the instructions she had been given?
The second character used by the author is bring out the theme is the wagon man, despite the fact that he doesn’t not have a decent home, he is not ashamed of his work any if given a chance he performs it at his best level. After meeting Elisa, all that he is concerned about is sharpening her tool or repairing any of her broken pots. However Elisa turns him down and he becomes distraught until after he is given a chance to practice what he does best. The man explains to Elisa how he has perfected his art and that how the work earns him a living, he goes ahead to inform her that, if she does not offer him a job he will sleep on an empty stomach “His face fell to an exaggerated sadness. His voice took on a whining undertone. "I don’t have a thing to do today. Maybe I won't have no supper tonight. You see I'm off my regular road.” (Steinbeck, line 45).The man also explains to her that he does very good work but at a low cost so that he can be the best person offering the service. Moreover just like Elisa the wagon man has got the necessary tools to get the work going “got a special tool. It's a little bobbit kind of thing, and patented. But it sure does the trick" (Steinbeck, line 44).
In conclusion, people in Salinas concentrate on their work with an aim of perfecting it. They understand that without hard work, one is likely to become financially bankrupt. This is one of the reasons why Elisa and her husband only go out for dinner after they have made a kill. Talents should always be natured through hard work and consistency because they can be a great source of income and pride if well natured.


Steinbeck John. The Chrysanthemums: Perfection Learning, 2007
Steinbeck John. The Chrysanthemums: Retrieved from on 18th June 2010.
Cao, Xuegin & Hawkes, David. The Story of the Stone: The Crab-flower Club. Penguin Classics, 1986


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    • Marsei profile image

      Sue Pratt 5 years ago from New Orleans

      I enjoyed this hub. East of Eden is my favorite book of all time. I reread it almost every year and it seems to change -- of course, it's not the book who's changed. I read this short story years ago and enoyed your interpretation of it as regards the work ethic.

      Thank you for an interesting hub.

      I voted up.