The wire fencing with which Elisa surrounds her garden is designed to “protect her flower garden from cattle and dogs and chickens.” (Steinbeck 460) What the fence truly does is keep Elisa in. Her energy is isolated to that which the fence encompasses: the house and the garden. In The Chrysanthemums the word ‘fence’ is repeated six times throughout the story with ‘chicken wire’, meaning the fence, said once. This repetition alludes to the fact that the fence is more than a mere object, but a symbol of Elisa's containment in her domestic role. The fence represents boundaries that Elisa will not allow herself to cross.
Elisa's unhappiness in her role as the wife of a cattle farmer is clear in her gardening. Through the authors detailed diction it is clear that gardening is her way of freeing herself from her suffocating environment. “The chrysanthemum stems seemed too small and easy for her energy” which is “over-eager” and “over-powerful” (Steinbeck 460). The intensity with which she gardens, “terrier fingers destroy[ing] such pests before they could get started” suggests more than simply a deep interest, but a form of escape completely submerging her self into the task (Steinbeck 460). It is possible that some...
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... husband, men, or society” (Renner). It is “pointedly identified as 'Elisa's wire fence'” (Renner).
Elisa life in the “closed pot” of the Salinas Valley is not one that she wants, but it is one that she cannot escape. Without the encouragement of a man, she cannot find the strength to look beyond her life of gardening and household chores. Until she does, she will remain trapped in role as a house-wife.
Renner, Stanley. “The Real Woman Inside the Fence in ‘The Chrysanthemums’.” Modern Fiction Studies. Vol. 31. No.2. (Summer 1985). 305-317. print; reprinted in Short Story Criticisms. Vol.37. eds. Anja Barnard and Anna Sheets Nesbitt (Farmington Hills: The Gale Group, 2000). 333-339. print.
Steinbeck, John. “The Chrysanthemums”. Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, Drama. 2nd ed. Ed. Robert DiYanni. New York: McGraw, 2008. 459-466. Print.
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