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The Chrysanthemums

The Chrysanthemums

by John Steinbeck

Analysis: Tough-o-Meter

We've got your back. With the Tough-O-Meter, you'll know whether to bring extra layers or Swiss army knives as you summit the literary mountain. (10 = Toughest)

(4) Base-Camp

At first glance, "The Chrysanthemums" seems pretty straightforward. The language is simple, the dialogue is easy to follow, and it's quite short.

But there are a few challenges along the way, mainly because the story doesn't give us a lot to work with. Everything the characters say, and everything they do, is boiled down to a few words and phrases. This gives the dialogue and action multiple possible meanings and explanations (many of which are not obvious), so it's often hard to find firm footing.

But hey, that's half the fun. If the chrysanthemums had only one, clear meaning, or if Elisa's tears had only one explanation, the story would be a total snooze. But with its complex emotions and sparse narrative, "The Chrysanthemums" is like a reading rumpus room, in which we can romp around, bounce off the walls, fall down and pick ourselves back up. And every time we read this story, we come up with something new to ponder, entirely on our own.

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