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Symbolism in The Chrysanthemums by John Steinbeck

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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 e...

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...but romantic. That simple gesture is enough to sustain Elisa for the present time. She probably also realizes that the wine is the most she will get out of Henry for a long time.

All of this insight and analysis of the meaning behind Elisa's chrysanthemums is what opens up the undisclosed doors of this story. If one did not look further into the story, it would seem as if the author was providing a bunch of unnecessary pieces of information about a specific day in the life of Elisa Allen. The chrysanthemums, being the key to the story, give a more in-depth understanding of this woman's life and her struggles that would otherwise not be acknowledged.

Works Cited:

Steinbeck, John. ?The Chrysanthemums.? Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. 2nd Compact ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003. 359-366
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