Symbolism in The Chrysanthemums by John Steinbeck
"A symbol is an act, person, thing, or spectacle that stands for something else, by association a usually broader idea in addition to its own literal meaning" (Cassill & Bausch, 1728). John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums" may seem as a story describing a simple day with the Allen couple. It begins with Elisa Allen working in her garden and her husband, Henry Allen, negotiating with two suited business men that want to purchase steers. They seem to engage in conversations and go about their day as they normally would do. By the time the story ends, they are on their way to dinner and a movie. At first glance, this story may seem as nothing special, just a day in the life of fairly happy couple attempting to enjoy their marriage. However, there is much more under the surface of what is written. The story has a relative amount of symbols which gives light on other details of the story. It is not until after looking at deeper meanings of some of the symbols that there can be a more comprehensive reading of the tale. If one takes a good look, one can notice that Henry is an uncommunicative husband, and Elisa craves for more from the relationship, and her life. The lack of passion between Elisa and her husband leads her to use her flowers, the chrysanthemums, and other household tasks as an outlet for the attention that she longs for. Elisa, like many other women, is limited by society's view on women's position in the home.
A more clear example of how Elisa feels can be better explained by Steinbeck's description of the where Elisa and Henry live. "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" (Steinbeck, 1462). This description of the Salina Valley is closely related to her character. Elisa's isolation and constraint is represented by the description of the valley. Elisa feels cut off from the rest of the world; she has no independence, and lives in a male dominated society. The valley being described as a, "closed pot" can also be considered a metaphor for Elisa's existence, she knows how the rest of her life is going to be, and she is not happy knowing that she is so limited in choices.
Elisa lives in a masculine world with countless qualities hidden under her man's hat, clodhopper shoes, and a big corduroy apron she wears to garden. One of the reasons that Elisa may feel more restricted is because of the fact that she does not have any children to distract her, therefore spends the majority of the time contemplating about her life. This gives a slight indication that they might not be able to have children. During the period of time that this story was written, it was very unlikely for a married woman, especially at the age of thirty-five, not to have children. The fact that Elisa is childless makes it even...