Symbolism in John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums"
In "The Chrysanthemums" John Steinbeck develops a theme of limitations. The story is essentially a man in the mirror story where the rigid Elisa sees herself for the first time as trapped. Although Elisa has recognized her life as limited and confining, she sadly accepts her life as is and does nothing to rectify her situation. In John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums" symbolism of the fence, the garden, and the chrysanthemums help illustrate the story by striking an emotional chord with the audience.
Primarily the idea of limitation or confinement is presented as the story begins: "the high gray-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world. On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot." Within this closed pot Elisa exists in even smaller confines. Her only escapee is through working in her garden, which is confined by a wire fence. The wire fence serves a dual purpose to the garden. It keeps harm from Elisa's precious chrysanthemums but gives view to its beauty. The fence represents Elisa's marriage; allowing clear view of the world and what it has to offer but prevents tangibility.
"The Chrysanthemums" introduces us to Elisa Allen, a woman who knows she has a gift for growing things, but it seems to be limited to her garden. Diligently working in her garden, Elisa watches as men come and go, living their lives unconfined, wondering what it must feel like to have that freedom. That emotion is revealed as Elisa gases at her husband and acquaintances talking,...