According to DiYanni, Symbols in fiction are simply objects, actions, or even events that convey meaning. The meaning they convey extends beyond their literal significance, beyond their more obvious actual reason for being included in the story (Literature 95). In “The Chrysanthemums,” John Steinbeck reveals the theme of loneliness and alienation of a woman from her husband through his symbolic use of a realistic setting, character, tinker, chrysanthemums, and conversations.
In “The Chrysanthemums,” Steinbeck paints a vivid picture of Salinas Valley’s landscape and climate to reflect the gloomy mood of the main character Elisa. The introduction of the story conveys a disturbing separation of Salina Valley from the rest of the world. Just as “the high grey-flannel fog of winter [closes] off Salinas Valley from … the rest of the world” so is Elisa isolated from Harry. Similarly, the “fog and rain” foreshadows the estranged relationship that exists between Elisa and Harry (Steinbeck 192).
Elisa is a thirty-five year old “handsome” wife who lives on a ranch with her husband Harry. At the beginning of the story, little interaction is demonstrated between the couple, except for glances Elisa casts “across the yard [to see] Henry, her husband, [talk] to two men in business suits” he is trying to sell some property to without the knowledge of his wife (193). It is evident Elisa feels lonely so she channels all her time, energy and love towards raising her “chrysanthemums” in her “wire fence” garden. Not only does the “wire fence” protect Elisa’s “flower garden” from “cattle and dogs and chicken” but it also serves as a barrier between Elisa and Harry and removes every opportunity from the couple to...
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...o be opened for any eventualities. And for Elisa every lingering hope for a passionate and nurturing relationship with Harry is a fiasco as she realizes that the “glowing” the “tinker” leaves behind is just a figment of her imagination. Her inner passion may never be released around Harry but will be “strong” in her garden as she pours it all out on her “chrysanthemums” (197). So she requests for a “wine” in a tone that is devoid of affection between the couple. Elisa probably hopes that when she wakes up after the drink wears off everything will be a dream.
Indeed John Steinbeck’s “Chrysanthemums” is a symbolic demonstration of the loneliness and alienation that continues to plague many relationships leading to unsatisfied marriages. By using a realistic setting and typical characters Steinbeck makes the story relevant to many generations to come.
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