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Steinbeck's The Chrysanthemums Essay

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John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums” hosts a warm yet somber account of a woman’s hunger to find fulfillment and vitality in her mundane life and stagnant marriage. Steinbeck presents the turmoil stirring inside the main character, Elisa Allen, by mirroring the lackluster qualities in the surrounding landscape. Taking place in the early-twentieth century, it is clear to the reader that the marital discontentment of a woman in this era was an issue of shame and secrecy; therefore, the author chose to allude to Elisa’s restlessness with inferences and vague dialogue to portray her from an unbiased and truthful viewpoint to invoke compassion and solicitousness from the reader. Joseph Warren Beach states Steinbeck’s portrayal of Elisa Allen is “one of the most delicious characters ever transferred from life to the pages of a book” (321). Symbolism and characterization are intertwined between the characters and the setting which allows the reader to fathom both her inner desires as well as her personal toils.
In the author’s characterization of Elisa, she is personified in a parallel fashion in how the day lacks majesty with its valley of fog leaving only golden flowers to resemble gleams of sunshine which fails to shine. Elisa is unsatisfied and restless, yearning to come alive, to feel the rays of sunshine in warmth of love and appreciation from her husband, Henry. Additionally, the setting sets the stage for the mood of not only the story but for the main character as well. “It was a time of quiet and of waiting. The air was cold and tender. A light wind blew up from the southwest so that the farmers were mildly hopeful of a good rain before long; but fog and rain do not go together” (Steinbeck 460). As the story continu...


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...ribes the penetration of the night stars throughout the depths of one’s body, Elisa reveals here she longs to have such ecstasy and sweet release from the confinement of her unhappy marriage and unfulfilling existence.
Indeed Steinbeck is triumphant in portraying Elisa’s vulnerability and yearning for a life of exhilarating and unrestrained love. Her prized moments of vitality from just hours before are quickly and harshly discarded as she discovers the traveling stranger has simply rid the chrysanthemum shoots in the road; her prized chrysanthemums left to wither in the drying, unattended soil which can no longer provide blossoms of delight or passion. The symbolism and parallelism in his characterization and setting details permit the reader to draw conclusions about one from the other which adds great depth to the round character of Elisa Allen.








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