The narrative revolves on the life of a woman’s needs. Theprotagonist, Elisa Allen lives a lonely life despite being married.The husband, Henry works in the farm all the time taking care of hiscattle. As a result, Elisa does not attract attention from him, whichmakes her feel abandoned. In addition, Elisa has no children, whichmakes her lonelier. She is on her own, which compels her toconcentrate on affectionately taking care of chrysanthemums. Allthrough the narrative, Steinbeck concentrates on the use of symbolismin telling the story.
The chrysanthemums are a symbol of Elisa. The manner in which shecaters for the flowers and their presence in the narrative makes itpossible to understand the character. The author expresses how Elisacaters for the flowers by turning, smothering and patting the soil.This makes it apparent that Elisa has no other activity to preoccupyall the loneliness she experiences (Lone Star College 1). Moreclear is the fact that Elisa is childless, and tenders to the flowersin the similar manner as she could have to her children. They aresymbolic of children that do not exist in the life of the character.They as well symbolize her neglected womanhood, which her husbanddoes not seem take care of. The husband tells Elisa, “I wish youwould work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big”(Kirsznerand Stephen630). From the quote, it is apparent that he is disinterestedin Elisa’s flowers, symbolizing a lack of interest in the wife aswell. When the husband fails to demonstrate any interest for thechrysanthemums, which Elisa works so hard to ensure they lookattractive, it creates the impression that he does not appreciate herbeauty. The flowers are as beautiful and attractive as Elisa is, yetHenry does not notice the beauty.
As the narrative develops, another character is introduced. This isthe tinker, who enhances the symbolism of the flowers. When Henryleaves with a cattle buyer, a strange person advances on Elisa. It isapparent that she dislikes the man, but later changes her attitude assoon as he talks about the chrysanthemums. As the narrative notes,“The irritation and resistance melted from Elisa’s face” whenthe stranger comments on the flowers (Kirsznerand Stephen632). The reaction resembles that of a woman that is sexuallystimulated. This makes it apparent that Elisa is frustrated sexuallyand derives her stimulation by tendering to the chrysanthemums.Following the comment from the stranger, she takes off her hat andfrees her hair. Considering that, she is a modest woman, taking offthe hat and shaking her hair symbolizes another woman removing herclothes because the stranger has sexually intrigued her. By the mandepicting interest in the flowers, is communication that thecharacters likes Elisa. She feels that the man appreciates hersexuality unlike the husband. He describes, “Kind of a long-stemmedflower looks like a quick puff of colored smoke? (Kirsznerand Stephen632)” As a result, Elisa becomes attracted to the stranger.
Elisa allows the man to enter the yard and offers to give herflowers. Once in the yard, she brings out a flowerpot that is red.Choosing a red flowerpot is symbolic to excitement and freedom. Asshe communicates with the tinker, Elisa experiences her freedom andfeels the ability make her flowers alive. The encounter with thecharacter brings to light sexual feelings hence, the color redsymbolizes the stimulation. On the other hand, the pot is a symbol ofElisa’s feelings as she brings it to the tinker and intends tocommunicate indirectly what she now feels for him. As the encounterbetween the tinker and Elisa advances, she digs up chrysanthemums toplant in the pot. Notably, “The gloves were forgotten now”(Kirsznerand Stephen632). She digs without wearing any gloves, which expresses herfreedom. Previously, when digging she would wear gloves but has nowbeen freed and does not feel the need to cover her hands anymore. Itimplies that Elisa is no longer sexually frustrated, as herexperience with the tinker stimulates her formerly neglected sexualdesires. Although Elisa is able to fix her pots, she brings out twomore pots for the tinker to fix and pays him. This is because shefinds pleasure in his company and the effect in freeing her as wellas making her feel passionate.
Immediately the man has gone, Elisa feels confident and proceeds tohave a makeover. After some moment, “she began to dress slowly andput on her newest underclothing and her nicest stockings and thedress which was the symbol of her prettiness” (Kirsznerand Stephen634). The transformation from tendering to flowers to dressingup means that when the flowers are complimented she developsconfidence. This is because the flowers refer to her and hersexuality. Even the husband is able to realize the different look. Hesays she “looks nice, different, strong and happy” (Kirsznerand Stephen635). This further symbolizes the connection between findingthe flowers attractive as a compliment about Elisa.
Kirszner, Laurie G, and Stephen R.Mandell. PortableLiterature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Boston,MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2013. Print.
Lone Star College.John Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums: A woman bound by society,2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. <http://www.lonestar.edu/chrysanthemums.htm>