The Symbolism of Chrysanthemums
Elisa Allen lived in a place that was shut off from the rest of the world. In the opening sentence Steinbeck writes that "the high gray-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from the rest of the world" (325). Elisa has no one but her husband Henry to really keep her company and he does not know how to fulfill his position as a companion. There fore, Elisa uses the chrysanthemums to occupy her time. The chrysanthemums are a type flower that has a strong stalk, but are very pretty. In this case, the chrysanthemums are symbolic of Elisa herself. What Elisa really wants is for someone to giver her some attention; for someone to take an interest in her. Henry seems as though he takes an interest in her gardening when says, "You've got a gift with things [. . .] some of those yellow chrysanthemums you had this year were ten inches across" (326) That would have been a great thing to say to Elisa to make her warm up to Henry, but in that same sentence he also says, "I wish you'd work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big" (326). Elisa seems as if she takes offense to this comment, but she really takes offense to the fact that Henry really isn't interested in her, he is interested in the orchard. That is what spurs Elisa's sarcastic reply. Elisa's interest in the tinker had nothing to do with him as a person, but with the fact that she thought he was interested in her. "When the tinker comes into her yard, Elisa is immediately antagonistic toward him-that is, until he shows an interest in her chrysanthemums" (Thomas). Elisa doesn't like him, but he shows an interest in her flowers, which is symbolic of an interest in Elisa. Elisa proves to be a very sensuous woman, but we can't see that until the tinker makes her believe that he is interested in her. Henry does not provoke the change to come out of Elisa so he never sees it, but when the tinker asked for some chrysanthemums for one of his...
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