The short story, “The Chrysanthemums,” takes place in a small town in Central California. The whole short story is told from the point of view of a male narrator who tells a female character’s story.
Much about this short story reflects John Steinbeck’s own life as he lived it and saw it around him. In particular, the short story is set in a town with an agricultural background very much like Salinas where Steinbeck lived from 1919-1931. The people that live and work there are also similar to those that surrounded him at that time.
The short story is about a woman named Elisa Allen who plants flowers for a living, but she longs to have a garden of her own. She lives with her husband Henry and their young son Tom. Her life consists of working as a gardener for Mr. Munson’s wife who gives them their supplies and they grow all their food without any outside help or money.
In the short story Elisa finds some chrysanthemums growing wild at night by the highway near their home and she starts to plant them in her garden. She spends a lot of time around these chrysanthemums and gets obsessed with them and how beautiful and delicate they are and soon neglects her household duties, her family, and even shortchanges Munson’s wife on the vegetables she needs.
Eventually Elisa becomes ill from overwork and exhaustion after neglecting herself for too long. The story ends with Elisa dying by her flowers still longing for something that can never be hers.
Elisa’s fixation on the chrysanthemums represents an escape from her life as a farmer’s wife. She is driven by an instinctive desire to create beauty when faced with ugliness around her every day. She has two sources of escape: The chrysanthemums and her son Tom. She spends much time with both when she should be working for the Munsons or tending to chores around the house. In addition, Elisa’s obsessive need to care for her garden is a major cause in neglecting household duties and other responsibilities, causing her health to deteriorate until she dies from it.
The short story “The Chrysanthemums,” by John Steinbeck is about a woman who lives by herself in California during the early 1900’s who becomes obsessed with flowers found along a highway near her home. This obsession eventually leads to her death.
The short story centers on Elisa Allen, the protagonist of the short story who lives with her husband and son in California during the Great Depression (Westfahl 2). Elisa has very little contact with anyone outside of her family. One day, she meets Ternalita, an older woman who works as a trasplanting-chrysanthemum performer for the county fair (Steinbeck 8). Ternalitas tells her about her past life as one of famous chrysanthemum performers. She then invites Elisa to join her at the upcoming flower show (Steinbeck 15).
At the flower show, Elisa feels out of place among the other performers. Her husband suggests that she make friends with some of them (Steinbeck 19). The first chrysanthemum performer is a short man who has worked at the fair for three years. He enjoys poking people with his hoe and he spends most of his time fantasizing about being rich (Steinbeck 21-22). The second chrysanthemum performer is Mrs. Anna Mark, an Italian woman who used to be a music teacher before her husband died.
After some thought, Elisa decides to go talk to the third chrysanthemum performer, Mrs. Florinda Norman (Steinbeck 25-27). Mrs. Norman is a short, middle-aged woman with bright blue eyes and curly hair. She wears an old dress that was once white but has now turned yellow from wear (Steinbeck 28). Elisa tells Mrs. Norman her real name, which she never does with anyone else in order to avoid being thought “fresh” or “cheeky”. Elisa also says that the short man said something insulting about Ternalita stealing some of his business if Elisas joins the show (Steinbeck 32).
Florinda takes this information back to her manager, Mr. Kingman (a tall man who wears large glasses), who goes over and yells at the short man for saying mean things about Elisa (Steinbeck 34). Ternalita comes over and tells Elisa that Mr. Kingman has offered her a job as a chrysanthemum performer (Steinbeck 35). Ternalita says the short man now wants to be friends, but she is going with Mr. Kingman because he treats her better (Steinbeck 36-39). At home, Elisa’s husband tells her not to join up with any more of those people or else she’ll “go queer” like they do (Steinbeck 40).
The story ends with Elisas picking flowers for herself, which symbolizes her independence against the wishes of her husband. Elisa’s feelings about herself are expressed in her thoughts when she says, “I’m a good woman but I’ve done bad things. They were always pleasant and cheerful about it, as if it wasn’t very important. ” The short story ends with the line “and the chrysanthemums stood rigid, unbending” which symbolizes their independence just as Elisa’s is depicted through picking flowers for herself (Westfahl 2).
In the short story “The Chrysanthemums,” John Steinbeck uses symbolism, point of view, and other literary techniques to convey his message to the reader. The short story focuses on Elisa Allen who moves out west to become a farmer’s wife. She lives in isolation, growing chrysanthemums which are symbols of femininity. The short story starts with this quote to symbolize Elisa’s isolation: “High upon the mountain were her husband to look for her”, (Steinbeck 97).
Even though Henry is only looking for Elisa so he can treat her like she is his property. Her husband thinks that he owns everything about her because he gives her material things such as money and property stakes saying where their farm is. Elisa is not treated like an individual but rather like another possession. Her husband thinks that she exists solely for him which ties into symbolism because even though chrysanthemums are associated with femininity, they also symbolize hard work and dedication to one’s job or passion in life.
The short story ends with the title “The Chrysanthemums” symbolizing what Elisa tried so hard to keep throughout the short story, her femininity. Just as Henry said, “it is a flower”, (Steinbeck 99) he was unable to understand his wife’s feelings about keeping the chrysanthemums alive instead of destroying them when there were drought conditions. This short story description shows that Steinbeck uses literary techniques to convey his message to the reader. John Steinbeck’s short story, “The Chrysanthemums,” reflects strong symbolism throughout.
The short story starts with a quote that shows Elisa’s isolation, which is important for the rest of the short story because it symbolizes how women are treated in this time period. Women are treated like possessions rather than human beings and expected to work even when they do not want to. This short story takes place during bad drought conditions, but instead of helping save her farm, Henry expects Elisa to take care of the chrysanthemums while he works on their water problem.
Another example of symbolism is when Henry says “It looks just like your mother’s” after seeing Elisa wearing new clothes (Steinbeck 100). This short story symbolism is important because Elisa’s husband treats her like she belongs to him and even when he says that the chrysanthemums look like his wife’s mother’s, it means that Henry thinks of himself as masculine and sees his wife as feminine. Elisa is portrayed as a symbol for all women in this short story because she has to take care of everything around the house by herself even though her husband works hard outside.
The short story uses symbolism throughout to convey its message about the role of women in society at this time period. Women were not given much choice and expected to take care of everything without having free time for themselves unless they were doing what men thought was appropriate. John Steinbeck’s short story, The Chrysanthemums,” reflects strong symbolism throughout. In the short story “The Chrysanthemums,” John Steinbeck uses point of view and other literary techniques to convey his message about femininity, isolation, and life on a farm during bad drought conditions.
The short story begins from Elisa’s perspective to give information on her thoughts and feelings towards Henry and the neglect he gives her when he does not ask if she wants chrysanthemums in their garden (Steinbeck 97). When Elisa is asked her opinion about something that affects her, Henry dismisses it by telling her that she does not know anything about farming or what they need for their property. In this short story description, it reveals that she has to take care of everything around the house without any help from her husband.
Elisa is isolated because even though Henry works out in the fields, she is expected to work on their farm as well without any recognition or appreciation for what she does. The short story symbolism helps convey its message throughout because at the end it states that “the chrysanthemums were a short-lived splendor” (Steinbeck 100). This short story description shows symbolism where during bad drought conditions, instead of helping save their farm like Henry was doing, he expects his wife to take care of the flowers while he solves their water problem which symbolizes how women are treated by men in this time period.
Women did not have much choice and were expected to help their husbands without having free time for themselves unless they were doing what men thought was appropriate. This short story symbolism is meant to represent femininity and how women are isolated in society at this time period. This short story uses point of view and other literary techniques throughout like imagery, allusion, symbolism, foreshadowing, etc. , to convey its message about the role of women in society during bad drought conditions.
The short story begins from Elisa’s perspective where she has to work double on her farm without any appreciation or recognition from Henry (Steinbeck 97). Women were seen as possessions rather than human beings who deserved freedom like men did because it was seen as inappropriate for women to do things that men could do if they wanted to. The short story symbolism is important because at the end it states that “the chrysanthemums were a short-lived splendor” (Steinbeck 100).
This short story description shows symbolism where during bad drought conditions, instead of helping save their farm like Henry was doing, he expects his wife to take care of the flowers while he solves their water problem which symbolizes how women are treated by men in this time period. Women did not have much choice and were expected to help their husbands without having free time for themselves unless they were doing what men thought was appropriate. This short story symbolism is meant to represent femininity and how women are isolated in society at this time period.
An example of imagery used in this short story is when John Steinbeck says, “The chrysanthemums were a short-lived splendor” (Steinbeck 100). This short story description shows imagery where during bad drought conditions, instead of helping save their farm like Henry was doing, he expects his wife to take care of the flowers while he solves their water problem. An example of foreshadowing in this short story is when John Steinbeck says,”She smiled at him and then she said seriously, ‘Do you want me to leave? He glanced sharply around from what he was doing” (Steinbeck 105).
In this short story description, it reveals that even though Elisa has been working hard on the farm for years without having recognition for what she does, Henry is too focused on his work to even notice. This short story foreshadowing is meant to make the reader question how this short story will end because after all of these years, why would Elisa feel like she has to leave?
An example of symbolism in this short story is when John Steinbeck says,”Elisa felt an urgent necessity for movement” (Steinbeck 102). In this short story description, it reveals that when Elisa goes out into the garden and starts working on her chrysanthemums by pulling weeds, it shows that even though she has been standing in one place doing hard physical labor for so long without any recognition or appreciation from her husband, she still needs something to do to keep her going.
An example of a literary technique used in this short story is allusion, when John Steinbeck says,”This morning the land is stubbled with a growth as harsh as a beard upon his face” (Steinbeck 95). This short story description uses allusion where Henry thinks that Elisa should be out doing something to help their farm instead of just standing around like an ornament on the shelf.
Allusion refers to situations or characters that are familiar because they have been seen before somewhere else or even if not, they can still easily be understood by the reader without any confusion. Even though this short story does not directly state any other stories it could be compared to, one would know what it means through the context of the short story. An example of dialogue in this short story is when John Steinbeck says,”‘Don’t I always tell you so? Whatever it was, I can’t do it now'” (Steinbeck 99).
In this short story description, Elisa is complaining to Henry about how there’s no time for herself and she has to do everything around their farm because he doesn’t seem to care about what happens on the farm or even notice that anything is happening at all. Dialogue means speaking or conversing with someone else where voice is used inside a conversation. The difference between dialogue and narration is that dialogue refers to spoken words while narration refers to written words which are not meant to be said out loud.