The Colorless Chrysanthemums Symbolism

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Colorless Chrysanthemum “The Chrysanthemums” is a short story by John Steinbeck that is about a woman named Elisa, a woman who spends all of her time gardening her prized chrysanthemums; these prized chrysanthemums symbolize Elisa’s role as a woman. Steinbeck shows this role as a woman in several way; the chrysanthemums first symbolize Elisa’s maternal instinct, and her want for children, the chrysanthemums then symbolize Elisa’s sexuality and then her femininity. The chrysanthemums first symbolize Elisa’s natural maternal instinct, and her want for children. Elisa is thirty-five year old woman, and while it is still possible for a woman of her age to become pregnant, it is quite a bit harder, with a tendency for more complications. Since…show more content…
Elisa tends to the chrysanthemums frequently, and is very protective of the flowers, just as a mother would tend to her child frequently, and would be very protective of her child. Elisa also keeps her chrysanthemums fenced in, separate from the ranch and protected from chickens, cattle, and dogs. This literal barrier put in place by Elisa keeps her symbolic children out of harms reach. Elisa also keeps her chrysanthemums safe from pests like aphids, sowbugs, snails and cutworms. Elisa does this with “[h]er terrier fingers [which] destroyed such pests before they could get started” (205). These aphids, sowbugs, snails, and cutworms are all harms to the health of the chrysanthemums, and as a good mother, Elisa removes all these pests before they can do any harm to her children. Since the chrysanthemums symbolize her children, Elisa is proud of them just as she would be of a human child. When Henry compliments Elisa’s…show more content…
Elisa is not the most feminine woman, “[h]er figure look[s] blocked and heavy in her gardening costume…” (204). This imagery of a heavy, blocked figure is very masculine which contrasts from the feminine, nurturing imagery of Elisa caring for her chrysanthemums as if they were her children. This hard and masculine image of Elisa leads to a lack of romance within her and Henry’s marriage. Elisa feels as though Henry doesn’t see her as feminine which causes her to be hostile toward Henry. While Henry seems aloof of Elisa’s needs, Elisa is not quick to tell Henry what her needs are; this lack of communication not only adds to Elisa’s frustration, but leaves her unable to properly handle the Tinker. When Elisa meets the Tinker, her masculine, hard façade, quickly diminishes and completely disappears after he says a few pretty words. As soon as the tinker admires Elisa’s chrysanthemums, Elisa tears “…off the battered hat and [shakes] out her dark pretty hair” (208). The image of dark pretty hair that the tinker sees is completely opposite from the blocked and heavy figure that Henry sees. Since the tinker shows what Elisa believes to be, genuine interest in the chrysanthemums, Elisa begins to literally shed her masculine image, and replaces it with the femininity that Henry is unable to see. The
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