Symbolism in Steinbeck

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Iligan, Jessica
Professor Cox
November 14, 2012
English 1302-319
Symbolisms in “The Chrysanthemums”
John Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums is a story about a woman named Elisa Allen. She is a beautiful, smart, and strong woman who is unsatisfied with her present circumstances despite living a married life. The lack of intimacy and children in the marriage is the cause of frustration that she feels. Cultivating the chrysanthemums becomes an outlet for her frustration and disappointment. Steinbeck uses the chrysanthemums to symbolize Elisa’s femininity and as a critique of a male-dominated society.

Elisa’s flower garden and her chrysanthemums represent the aesthetic aspect of the story. Like the flowers, Elisa is a beautiful woman who is valued for her practicality and not for her beauty. Her marriage with Henry lacks intimacy as he does not appreciate her feminine side and the lack of children. He fails to appreciate Elisa and she does not point-out his fault. The lack of connection causes a lack of intimacy which causes Elisa to be unhappy with him. Their conversation lacks harmony. On seeing the chrysanthemums, Henry sees the quantitative aspect of the flowers by pointing out that “some of those yellow chrysanthemums…were ten inches across” and how he wish that she could “work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big” (243). Henry’s role in Elisa’s life stays within the boundaries of being a provider, a protector and the decision maker of the household. A hint of resentment from Elisa is felt when Henry talk about his successful business transaction and she replies with “Good for you” (243). Henry’s failure to appreciate Elisa’s feminine side leaves her naïve and vulnerable in her meeting with the tinker. The arrival of the tinker is the crisis of the story. He represents freedom; something that Elisa dreams of having and is reflected to every woman. At first, Elisa is irritated with him because he is looking for a business to do with her. Her...
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