Symbolism in the Chrysanthemums by John Steinbeck

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John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums" is a story that is full of symbolism. After the first read, it might seem like an innocent tale about a woman and her garden. However, upon further examination, the reader learns it is actually a story about a woman's desires and frustrations in her life. Steinbeck uses many examples, such as the flowers to symbolize the thoughts and ideas of the main character, Elisa, in this story. Elisa Allen is a lonesome woman who gets pleasure from growing her chrysanthemums. Since her husband, Henry, is constantly working with the cattle in their farm, Elisa never receives enough attention or any kind of affection. This neglect from her husband causes her to turn to her chrysanthemums, which she is very proud of. Early in the story, Steinbeck uses little symbolic phrases to let the reader know that the chrysanthemums are an extension of Elisa. As the chrysanthemums express Elisa’s feminine side when her husband inhibits her, she needs to care for them as if they were her. The existence of the flowers mirrors her own existence. When Steinbeck writes about how Elisa cares for the chrysanthemums, he says "she turned the soil over and over, and smoothed it and patted it firm". It is assumed by the reader that Elisa is childless, however it is not by her choice. The way she cares for her flowers, is the way she would take care of her children, since they replace her non-existent kids. She sees the chrysanthemums as a replacement for not only children, but also for her womanhood. Elisa’s desire to grow and nurture the flowers is both inspiring and disturbing, as her unstable nature has much to do with her husband’s lack of understanding his wife. Her husband’s remark, “I wish you’d work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big”, shows how little of an interest he has for her chrysanthemums or herself. This demonstrates how Elisa does not feel appreciated by her husband and therefore she takes care of her...
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