Symbolism in "The Chrysanthemums"




             In his story "The Chrysanthemums", written in 1938, Steinbeck introduces us with a woman, named Elisa, who is trying to obtain authority and control in a man's world. Elisa Allen struggles to characterize her position as a woman in a very close society. Her environment portrays the social depression, while the garden shows her power and masculine. Elisa has trouble extending this power outside the fence that surrounds her garden. She finally learns but not acknowledges that she possesses a fragile feminine power, not the masculine one she had attempted to attain. The symbols in setting and characters show the scope and nature of this empty society, and the chrysanthemums portray Elisa's existence and emptiness of her life. Those symbols can be found almost everywhere in this story, which takes place around the same time it was written, in Salinas Valley, California, during the wintertime. .

             The fog, in the beginning of the story, can be interpreted as something that can inhibit movement and sight, "sat like a lid on the mountains" (347). Moreover, the fog, like the close society, keeps things in step and restrained, like "a close pot". (347) Not only the fog, but also the orchards, "plowed up to receive the rain.when it should come", symbolize the way our society create us to be empty inside, so it can fills us with whatever it feels is needed, regardless of our personal desires and needs. The fences, which surrounds Elisa's garden, her working environment, symbolize Elisa Allen to her life. She is isolated from the real world, from the man's world. Also, like the fences, the narrow paths and ordered rows of her garden, are the symbols of society which demands from her to stop thinking, follow the paths, and don't go outside of the boundaries. Although, unlike her husband and the society he represents, Elisa shows us that at least she is trying to create something more than society dictates.

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