Paige's Paper

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The 1930s were not the easiest time to be a woman, and John Steinbeck’s short story “The Chrysanthemums” touches on the emotional aspect of this in the best way a man could. Steinbeck explores the denial of female sexuality and the devastating results it can have through the use of symbolism and lack of character growth. Elisa is his leading lady, affectionate and attentive toward her ever-growing chrysanthemums and disregarded by those around her. Elisa is pretty, as most Steinbeck females are, but is seen as simple and lacking in any substance to those around her. She is aware of this, and because of it, is quick to respond to any form of attention. Through the analysis of the symbolism and character development, one can discover the underlying tones of sexuality and desperate longing found within the text throughout.
Steinbeck was known for his ability to create lasting symbols that are discussed within the walls of every literature class, ever. “The Chrysanthemums” is no different, filled with things that mean something other than what they are literally shown to.
The largest and frankly, most obvious piece of symbolism within the text is of course the chrysanthemums themselves. While most see the flowers as the physical manifestation of her desire for children, when looked at a bit more closely, they can be taken to stand for her sexuality and the way in which it is constantly denied, given the time and circumstances of the story. She is seen as a trivial girl by her husband as drawn from his regular condescension, and as a little fool who will do what is requested as long as a little attention is paid to her by the Pot Seller.
She knows exactly how to manipulate her flowers in order to get the most out of them. She knows...

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...ain disregards her, saying, “You look strong enough to break a calf over your knee, happy enough to eat it like a watermelon.” (Steinbeck, p. 250) How romantic, Henry. She doesn’t lose her inner strength with that one, however. Choosing to overcome the comment and to look past it, she continues on her journey of making Henry see the woman she has “become”, if only momentarily. “”I’m strong,” she boasted. “I never knew before how strong.”” (Steinbeck, p. 250) However, when she sees the flowers thrown carelessly into the road and realizes the Pot Mender had done so after choosing to keep the pot, she deflates instantly, realizing that this is the life she is stuck with. This is her past, her present, and her future, and she is utterly hopeless to change it.

Works Cited

Steinbeck, J. (1938). The chrysanthemums . (pp. 244-252). Perfection Form Company.
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