Symbolism in The Chrysanthemums by John Steinbeck
"The Chrysanthemums", one of John Steinbeck's masterpieces, describes a lonely farmer's wife, Elisa Allen. Elisa Allen's physical appearance is very mannish yet still allows a hint of a feminine side to peek through. John Steinbeck brings symbolism into play to represent Elisa Allen's frustrations and hidden passions. Isolation is another representation through symbolism found in "The Chrysanthemums." Elisa's failing detached marriage is represented through two symbols. The two reoccurring symbols are the chrysanthemums and fences. John Steinbeck draws pity from the reader for Elisa Allen who desperately wishes to experience the passions of a fulfilling marriage and the stimulation of a man's life. Through symbolism in "The Chrysanthemums," John Steinbeck creates a sexually repressed and discouraged Elisa Allen who is isolated from society however still retaining their values and is also trapped in a fruitless marriage.
Elisa Allen and her repressed sexuality are introduced to the readers through a manly appearance with a small clue of a womanly figure making an effort to peer through. This suppressed sexuality will eventually symbolically emerge. Elisa's symbolic clothing shows her concealed passions. "Her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume (Steinbeck 1463)." Elisa tries to subdue her sexual desires by hiding beneath manly clothing, tools, and even her home (Duncun 1). "She wore a man's black hat, clod-hopper shoes…[and] heavy leather gloves (Steinbeck 1463)." She carried " short and powerful scissors (Steinbeck 1463)" and her house was "hard-swept and hard-polished (Steinbeck 1463)." Although she had a manly appearance she was still doing the woman's job of tending a flower garden. All of these manly traits did not hold her back; Steinbeck still allowed her suppressed sexuality to shine through (Pittmann 1). " A figured print dress almost completely covered by a big corduroy apron with four big pockets (Steinbeck 1463)." Steinbeck, by allowing the dress to be seen, is showing the readers Elisa passion that long to be unbridled. The manly gloves that she wore to protect her hands show that she still wants to be a women yet long for the adventure a man's life contains. Clothing was not the only symbol of repression in John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums."
There are many symbolic references to Elisa Allen as a sexually repressed and frustrated woman. One representation of the chrysanthemum is Elisa's passion and eagerness to live and experience life a content woman. While tending her chrysanthemums "she pulled out the crisp little roots and trimmed of the leaves of each one with her scissors (Steinbeck 1464)." This is a symbolism of Elisa Allen closing off all opportunities to grow as a sexual woman; She has resigned herself to the monotonous life as a complacent farmer's wife (Lee 1). The "figured print dress (Steinbeck 1463)" under the apron shows the...