“The Chrysanthemums” is a short story by John Steinbeck about a not so normal day on the countryside of Salinas Valley, California, where a woman realizes she is only as strong as she chooses to be. Steinbeck uses an array of symbolism to convey his story and allow the reader to look beyond the words at face value. In John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums”, symbolism allows him to correlate Elisa’s gardening; her relationship with her husband; the presence of a stranger; and the chrysanthemums themselves, to exemplify Elisa’s feelings of entrapment and inadequacy.
Elisa chooses to garden, because it’s something she can do right and gardening creates a safe haven for her. Elisa, like her mother, has a “planters’ hand” (418) and seems to be able to make anything grow. She is working in her flower garden, with a lot of energy and emotion. The chrysanthemums grew in tall and beautiful this year, symbolizing her as a “lean and strong” (418) woman. There is a lot of comparison between Elisa and her flowers throughout this short story.
Elisa’s husband isn’t very supportive of her work, so her opinion of herself isn’t always very high. He is so busy with the cattle and in the orchards he tends not to notice her. When he does, he makes comments like “I wish you’d work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big,” (418) showing how little interest he has in her. Her husband makes decisions and comments with little regard to how she may feel. Elisa doesn’t feel appreciated by her husband, and in turn, takes care of the flowers, that appear to be an extension of her. Eliza is the only one who takes care of the flowers, symbolizing how she is the only one who takes care of her.
Elisa finds strength in seeing her hard work blossom. She’s still on an emotional high, feeling like she can do anything, when a stranger claims the wagon life “ain’t the right kind of a life for a woman” (422). The stranger hits her soft spot when he asks if he may take some of her...