The theme of the short story "The Chrysanthemums" by John Steinbeck is the inequality between men and women and the desire for sexual fulfillment. The story was published in a collection of Steinbeck's short stories titled "The Long Valley", released in 1938.
The story revolves around a 35-year-old woman named Elisa Allen. Steinbeck describes Elisa as a woman who is attractive and lean and whose house is always clean. Elisa's character reflects those qualities that women of the time period were supposed to embody. However, as the story progresses, the reader discovers that Elisa is much more than she appears. She is adventurous, passionate and intelligent, and she appears to be full of more energy and life than the male characters of the story. Elisa's husband is unable or unwilling to recognize the intangible qualities that his wife possesses, so he belittles and makes fun of her. When a tinker comes to Elisa's farm, she tells him how much she would like to roam the country and live the adventurous life as he does, but the tinker simply says that the adventurous life is not for women. Elisa gives the tinker some small shoots of chrysanthemum flowers at his request as a gift. As Elisa and her husband are traveling into town at the end of the story, Elisa sees the remains of the chrysanthemums strewn across the side of the road.