Symbolism In The Crysanthemums Symbolism in The Chrysanthemums At first glance John Steinback’s The Chrysanthemums’ seems to be a story of a woman whose niche is in the garden. Upon deeper inspection, the story reveals strong symbolisms of children, vulnerability, and connection–being the most important, of the main character. Elisa Allen is the main character who is at her strongest and most proud in the garden and weakened when she becomes vulnerable and loses her connection to the outer world. Elisa shows a new aura of confidence when she makes this connection to a peddler, who also is the cause of her realization of reality and her crying. The chrysanthemums symbolize Elisa’s children.
She tends her garden and handles the chrysanthemums with love and care, just as she would handle her own children. Elisa is protective of her flowers and places a fence around them; she makes sure that no aphids, no sowbugs or snails or cutworms are t here. Her terrier fingers destroyed such pests before they could get started ( 221). These pests represent something that harms the flowers, and she removes them before they can harm her children. The chrysanthemums are symbolic of her children, and she is very proud of them. She is happy and pleased by her ability to nurture the chrysanthemums as she would her children.
Elisa’s vulnerability is shown through her experience with the peddler shows an interest in the chrysanthemums when he describes them as a quick puff of colored smoke (223). By admiring the chrysanthemums, he figuratively admires Elisa Allen. The peddler gives Elisa a connection that she can’t do with anyone else. By giving him the pot to put the chrysanthemum seedlings in, she gives him the symbol of her inner-self. She begins to feel hope as the peddler leaves.
She dresses up nice and prepares for her night out with her husband. This preparation process symbolizes that she is preparing for a change in her life. Her washing and dressing is symbolic of her transition. Tearing off her soiled clothes and flinging them into the corner, she scrubbed herself with a little block of pumice, legs and thighs, loins and chest and arms, until her skin was scratched and red. This is symbolic of Elisa coming out of her old being, releasing a newness she had become to know.
She tightened her stomach and threw out her chest .. She put on her newest under-clothing and her nicest stocking and the dress which was the symbol of her prettiness. She worked carefully on her hair, penciled her eyebrows and rouged her lips. All of this is brought about because one man took interest in her private pleasure-the chrysanthemums. Her connection with the peddler has made her come out of the fence that she is so used to being inside of.
She is free and she likes it. Elisa has seemed to undergo a complete metamorphosis from being an unsocial housewife to a confident woman when she makes this connection. She boasts, I am strong. I never knew before how strong. Unfortunately, at the conclusion of Steinbeck’s short story, Steinbeck has her fall right back into the rut she so despised.
When she realized that the peddler had dumped out the seeds and soil, and she comes back to reality and turned up her coat collar so her husband could not see that she was crying weakly-like an old woman. She is crushed and all that she had gained that day was taken away. This story expresses how easy it is for someone’s hopes and confidence can be crushed if it is given into the wrong person’s hands. The title The Chrysanthemums is used to point out that Elisa’s chrysanthemums are an image of her. The image reflects how she feels towards children through her flowers, what her vulnerabilities are, and how she uses them to make connections.
Elisa accomplished what she always wanted, but in the end a careless peddler took that away. She returned to being her old self, the self that lived within her own garden and fence. Bibliography Works Cited Steinback, John. The Chrysanthemums. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Eds.
X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 8th ed. New York: Longman, 2002. 245-253.