How Symbolism Manifests Itself In Steinbeck’s Story The Chrysanthemums

Steinbeck’s story “The Chrysanthemums”, which is set in the 1950s, clearly reflects the theme of isolation. Elisa is the main character and she is isolated emotionally, sexually, and physically from the beginning until the end. It is easy to sympathize with Elisa as she struggles with loneliness and dissatisfaction in her life. The story is fascinating in that Steinbeck manages to explore the complex thoughts of Elisa. We can connect with Elisa as we learn more about her life. Steinbeck’s use symbols is what makes this story so interesting. The Elisa is represented by the chrysanthemums, as well as all of Elisa’s daughters. The close similarities between Elisa and the dogs symbolise her femininity as well as her sexuality.

Steinbeck uses the color chrysanthemums both as a symbol for Elisa and as a symbol for all women in similar situations. They are the first major symbol in the story, and clearly they represent Elisa. Like Elisa the Chrysanthemums live in a restricted environment. They are locked inside the garden, with no escape. However, there was a small sandy area that could be used to root the chrysanthemums. Elisa and other women were kept in their homes, mostly to do house chores. While the men could leave whenever and wherever they pleased, Elisa’s house was her home. The chrysanthemums, although beautiful and decorative, serve no other purpose than their aesthetic value. Elisa as a woman is limited in her tasks and can only do so in patriarchal societies. She cannot even be left to take care of herself. Elisa is also represented by her chrysanthemums. She takes care of her garden and treats the chrysanthemums as if they were her children. She takes great care of her flowers, placing a wire barrier around them. The pests were killed by her terrier fingers. They would harm the flowers naturally, so she takes them out before they can get started. The chrysanthemums, which are symbolic of her children’s pride, are a mother’s proudest moment. She is proud of how her flowers are cared for by her husband and can’t resist showing some smugness. She is satisfied with the way she takes care of the flowers. These flowers can be used to replace the children she doesn’t have.

Elisa’s dogs and Elisa are a symbol of her femininity as well as sexuality. Elisa is smarter than the Tinker’s dogs and her dogs are stronger than Elisa’s. During her conversation with the Tinker, she shows her wit and she shows that she can also do any repair work. This statement clearly shows her that her pots, scissors and other items were in excellent condition, so she didn’t need to hire anyone to do this work. Despite her superior skill and wit, she eventually gives the tinker a job she could have completed by herself. Elisa asks the tinker about her sexuality, and he challenges it. “Elisa…moves beyond her usual role to challenge Henry…their occupations, sexuality.”

Steinbeck’s story uses symbolism to emphasize the protagonist’s situation. Steinbeck uses symbolism to highlight Elisa’s loneliness, her lack of children, and her patriarchal lifestyle. The Elisa symbol is the chrysanthemums, which also represent all women and Elisa’s children. The close similarities between Elisa and the dogs symbolize her femininity as well as her sexuality.