Symbols in “The Chrysanthemums” by John Ernst Steinbeck. 1937
John Ernst Steinbeck wrote “The Chrysanthemums” as one of his earlyshort stories, set on a farm in the Salinas Valley of his native California, during the early 1900’s. “The Chrysanthemums” is a story rife with symbolism, in which Steinbeck makes use of the setting, theclothes, the chrysanthemums and a red flower pot as symbols to represent the story about a woman whose unfulfilled womanhood and underappreciated sexuality leaves her frustrated and trapped in a lifewithout passion.
Steinbeck opens the story by comparing Elisa’s life to a winter day in which the fog makes a lid to the valley’s surrounding mountains forming “a closed pot.” Steinbeck uses thesetting as a symbolic representation of her sadness and loneliness, by associating her life with a sad and cold season. Steinbeck continues to describe the surroundings to convey the idea of a life withno way out when he uses “closed pot” as a strong representation of Elisa’s trapped life in a farm and refers to her clothes as a “gardening costume,” symbolizing how her feminine figure is hidden andovershadowed by her role as a working farmer.
“The Chrysanthemums” are the flowers that Elisa cultivates with constant care, symbolizing the elements of unfulfilled womanhood in her life. WhenHenry, her husband, states that she has a “gift with things,” she responds by saying that is “having planter’s hands that knew how to do it.” Steinbeck implies that Elisa has no children and that she growsthe flowers by using a woman’s innate gift to create life and protects them as a woman would protect her children.
While Henry is rounding up cattle before his dinner date with Elisa, a tinker manstops by the farm and pays attention to her flowers, arousing Elisa’s sexual desires, causing her to relinquish her gardener’s costume as she “runs excitedly,” shakes her “pretty hair,” and with...