Symbolism In John Steinbeck's 'The Chrysanthemums'

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In John Steinbeck’s short story, ‘The Chrysanthemums’, Elisa Allen is a thirty-five year old farmer’s wife whose underappreciated sensuality appears in the blooming flowers of her chrysanthemum garden. Elisa gets little attention from her husband even as she expresses her traditional skills in housekeeping and gardening. When a persistent repairman commends her for her chrysanthemums, she is willing to open up and give a part of herself in the form of chrysanthemum sprouts. Once the repairman gains his daily bread, the sprouts are seen strewn across the road into town. Symbols of repressed growth, femininity, and manipulation signify that Elisa Allen’s womanly qualities are overlooked to the point where men can manipulate her feminine nature…show more content…
At first, Elisa shows no interest in giving the repairman any work until her heart is softens at the mention of her chrysanthemums. The repairman notes her interest in the flowers and proceeds to compliment them with better sale prospects in mind (Help and Chrysanthemums). Symbolically, the repairman is taking an interest in Elisa’s feminine qualities through the chrysanthemums, which allows her to open up in a way she hasn’t been able to before ("Symbolism In "The Chrysanthemums""). As she lets the repairman into her yard, she is letting him into a deep part of herself: a romanticized and womanly part of her soul. As the repairman delves deeper into Elisa’s personal life by inquiring of her chrysanthemums, Elisa in turn opens up her feminine side, setting up a parallel to how she opens up about her flowers. “Her eyes shone. She tore off the battered hat and shook out her dark pretty hair…”(Steinbeck 6). Stripping from her old, tattered gardening hat reveals a soft, graceful version of Elisa that is hidden behind the psychological fence she has built up to protect her heart. She allows herself to give a part of her deepest self to the repairman as “her breast swelled passionately”, her voice and demeanor becomes more sensual as she nearly touches his trousers (Steinbeck 7). However, she is taken as a fool. Even though she protects the gift of her deepest self (the chrysanthemums) in a red -- symbolically sensual -- pot, that gift is discarded to the side of the road once the tinker has gotten enough to sustain him for the day. Her foolishness is represented by the geraniums mentioned to be in front of her house,which are notorious for symbolizing folly and stupidity ("Meaning Of Geraniums | What Do Geranium Flowers
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