The symbolism of the chrysanthemums

A symbol is a person, place, or thing in a narrative that suggests meanings beyond its literal meaning. It is also related to allegory, but it works more complexly. A symbol usually contains multiple meanings and associations. In the story “The Chrysanthemums,” the author John Steinbeck portrays the meaning of chrysanthemums in a realistic and symbolic way. Chrysanthemums are simply flowers but a strong central symbol in a way that, chrysanthemums shows some other characteristic such connecting with a stranger, her childlessness, and social.

The story is about a couple, Henry and Elisa Allen, who live in a white farmhouse on a foothill ranch across the Salinas River. It is winter, and the atmosphere is foggy. Elisa is a thirty-five year old woman, and approaches her gardening with enormous energy and excitement. She watches her husband Henry from across the yard, where he has been arranging for the sale of thirty steer with two other strangers. He comes to Elisa and offers to take her to town for dinner and a movie to make merry over the sale. He praises her expertise with flowers, while she also congratulates him on an excellent job on the negotiations for the steer. Both Henry and Elisa give the impression of a compatible couple, despite the fact that their way of communicating is strict and serious. Henry takes off to finish some of his farm duties, and Elisa decides to wrap up her transplanting before they head out for their date. While she is in the garden, a man riding a wagon approaches Elisa, and introduces himself as a pot mender and also sharpens knives and scissors. He has been moving from place to place in search of a mending job to do. The man coming over there makes Elisa feels she has fallen in love for the first time and shares the same interest with the man that makes her feels recognized and accepted. She realizes her inner feelings of attraction to another man.

Chrysanthemums reveal the insight of Elisa and her passion: “There was a little square sandy bed kept for rooting the chrysanthemums. With her trowel she turned the soil over and over, and smoothed it and patted it firm. Then she dug ten parallel trenches to receive the sets. Back at the chrysanthemum bed she pulled out the little crisp shoots, trimmed off the leaves of each one with her scissors and laid it on a small orderly pile “(john Steinbeck)” Even though Elisa and her husband Henry had no children and no child care experience, the above quote can be interpreted differently to give Elisa another character. Elisa’s preparation procedure for the transplant of the chrysanthemums is very meticulous just like it will be done when caring for a child. The way she nurtures her flowers also portrays how her children will be handled. The way she turns the soil over and over, smoothing, patting it firm and digging up trenches to receive the flowers is similar to preparing a room and a crib for the arrival of a baby making sure that the environment is comfortable and conducive for proper and normal growth.

The story makes us understand that Elisa has no social life. She has no friends to visit and she rarely has people come over. The only people she sees are the cattle buyers who come by occasionally. Her life is limited to the valley, more precisely her home which she shares with her husband. Elisa’s feeling of social isolation changes when she comes into contact with the pot mender who expresses some interest in her chrysanthemum garden and when she hears that some other person down the road has been looking for some as well. “She’d sure like to have some, ma’am. You say they’re nice ones?” “Beautiful”, she said. Oh beautiful “Her eyes shone. She tore off the battered hat and shook out her dark pretty hair. “I’ll put them in a flower pot, and you can take them right with you. Come into the yard, Elisa says”. Although the pot mender is telling lies to get Elisa to find him something to do, for that moment it didn’t take him much time to find out how the chrysanthemums means to Elisa. He manages to use her love for the chrysanthemums to manipulate her feelings. Elisa, on the other hand, feels some excitement and connection to this man, who also happens to love the same thing that she is passionate about.

Elisa’s attachment to her flowers reveals her love and passion that portray her motherhood, when she begins to have children. She takes delight in taking good and proper care for them. She is not happy and emotionally isolates herself from the society; her feeling changes when the man expresses his interest in the flowers. When she meets the pot mender, there comes a connection between them. Elisa is married to her chrysanthemums rather than her husband. She sees her garden as her husband, children, friends and family.

Steinbeck, John “Chrysanthemums”and Literature. An introduction To Fiction, Poetry, And Writing, Drama E d. X J. Kennedy and Dona Fifth Edition. New York: Longman 2007. 62-66

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