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Symbolism In The Chrysanthemums English Literature Essay

Elisa Allen is a lonely woman who enjoys growing and nourishing her chrysanthemums. Since her husband is always working the cattle in their farm, she never has enough attention or any kind of affection. The result of this dispassionate marriage leads Steinbeck to describe his main character as follows, “Her face lean and strong…Her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume, a man’s black hat pulled low…clod-hopper shoes…completely covered by a big corduroy apron…” (Page 206-207) This neglect from her busband causes her to turn to her “chrysanthemums,” of which she is very proud. Her husband’s remark, “I wish you’d work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big” (Page 207), shows how little his interest he has for her chrysanthemums/herself. As shown here, Elisa does not feel appreciated by her husband and so she takes care of her chrysanthemums, symbols of how beautiful she really is. Early in the story, Steinbeck uses little symbolic phrases to let the reader know that the chrysanthemums are an extension of Elisa.

Her gardening area could be described as a “cage” to protect herself from anything harmful. Knowing that her husband does not show interest in her chrysanthemums, gives her the thought that he does not have interest in her. The flowers and Elisa have interchangeable meanings that are explained later on in the story. When her husband goes off with one of the cattle buyers, a mysterious man on a junky wagon approaches her. Although appearance is not the greatest, she is interested in him. The reason being is that he shows interest in her chrysanthemums in order to persuade her to find something for him to fix. Again, the connection there is that he was interested in her flowers, meaning herself. The man says, “Kind of a long-stemmed flower? Looks like a quick puff of colored smoke?”…”That’s it. What a nice way to describe them.” (Page 209) With this, she now feels appreciated and attractive to this stranger. His compliment to her about her flowers leads her to feel obligated to allow him to fix her pots.

In their exchange, she gave him herself for a little bit of attention. Right after the stranger leaves, she is full of confidence in her womanhood and goes to do a complete makeover. “After a while she began to dress, slowly. She put on her newest underclothing and her nicest stockings and the dress which was the symbol of her prettiness.” (Page 212) In this scene in which she transforms from gardener to a model, she goes through a revelation of thoughts. Her excitement from the stranger’s interest in her chrysanthemums, gives her the confidence to grow and blossom like her flower.

When Elisa’s husband got home and saw her, he said, “Why – why, Elisa. You look so nice!” With her boost of confidence now, she says “Nice? You think I look nice? What do you mean by ‘nice’?” (Page 212) Elisa obviously goes on the offense and wonders why she just looks “nice.” For the last critical scene of symbolism, Elisa sees her precious chrysanthemum on the ground, but without the pot it was given in. With everything that happened between the stranger and Elisa, this could be explained by simply saying, “used.” She was basically fooled into giving herself away to someone who showed some interest in her. Her flower symbolizes all this and it is used throughout this story. The last sentence of this story is one that can have many meanings. “She turned up her coat collar so he could not see that she was crying weakly – like an old woman.” (Page 213) This means that she has lost her confidence and her self-esteem to keep her head high in the air. Symbols such as the flower are used sporadically throughout this story and gives the reader many meanings on what to think the last sentence means. This is why symbols are an essential part of a great story, because it gives the reader more to think about.............................

John Steinbeck used an objective point of view in “The Chrysanthemums,” with a few instances of limited omniscient point of view.

For most of the story, Steinbeck’s narration acts as a camera that sees the events that are happening and the voices that are speaking. As with any camera, Steinbeck doesn’t see what each character is feeling or thinking. Instead, he paints a picture of the scene and lets the reader come to their own conclusion as to what the character may be thinking or feeling. For instance, when Elisa was preparing the flower pot for the man, “she stood up then, very straight, and her face was ashamed,” Steinbeck gives us the idea that she feels ashamed, but only as an outside observer. He doesn’t tell us what she feels, just what her face reflects. When Elisa was finished with her bath “she stood in front of the mirror and looked at her body.” Steinbeck doesn’t tell us what she’s looking at or thinking, as the reader I had to assume what she was thinking as she examined herself before getting dressed.

In certain spots Steinbeck switches to a third person limited omniscient point of view. Limited omniscient point of view is when the narrator uses a third person voice to tell the reader what one character sees or hears. In the fourth paragraph Steinbeck tells the reader that Elisa “looked down across the yard and saw Henry, her husband, talking to two men.” Then again when the man arrived, Steinbeck tells us that “Elisa saw that he was a very big man.” Since Steinbeck is narrating what Elisa saw, he would be using a limited omniscient point of view for those sections.

The two point of views that Steinbeck used in “The Chrysanthemums affects our understanding of the characters by describing what could be seen from the outside. Through his objective point of view, Steinbeck leads us to understand Elisa as someone who is possibly unhappy with her life. She appears contemplative, possibly wondering if life could be different. However, with an objective point of view we don’t know exactly what she is thinking or feeling, or if she is really unhappy. All we can really be sure of is her surroundings. ....................................

The ensuing negatives of the Great Depression and the fall of the capitalism is well written through the setting, the characterization, and the plot. One of the ways John Steinbeck, in “The Chrysanthemums,” shrewdly depicts vibrant aspects of economic tensions in the Great Depression era is the use of hyperbole through the story's setting. In the setting, for example, he foreshadows struggles a reader might expect to see unfold from depressing December weather and and the prevailing of the yellow stubble field of the Salina Valley, which symbolize the harsh and unfruitful environment. People of the Salina Valley have done their work and there are no more left to do except to wait for rain to rejuvenate the field of the Salina Valley; the rain symbolizes the positive changes that could turn the the current economy around.

Another way the story acutely unfolds the economic distress or tension is through the portrayal of characters, Elisa, Henry, and the traveling mender. Author presents Elisa as a strong woman who does skillful gardening, and her characters resemble a man of equal setting. In author's description “Her face was eager

and mature and handsome; even her work with the scissors was over-eager, over-powerful. The

chrysanthemum stems seemed too small and easy for her energy,” she is someone most women can not identify with themselves. However, she realizes in the end that she is “weak” and “old,” implying what she struggle to better herself internally is limited by surroundings and social molds. More over, the author's presentation of the traveling mender is someone disgraceful, yet practical of which is one capitalistic characterization. In dire need of money and in order to gain Elisa's confidence in transacting a business matter, the desperate and hungry mender conceives a trick that plays on Elisa and leaves her hurt and discouraged in pursuing adventurous life filled with “fun” and possibilities. Here, author displays his intention that people's heart and their attitude toward humanity under capitalistic economy has hardened.........................................

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