John Steinbeck's short story, "The Chrysanthemums," revolves around the protagonist, Elisa. She lives on a ranch with her husband in a very isolated part of the country. Yearning for a more fulfilling life, Elisa falls prey to momentary attractions and ends up being crushed for her efforts. Through her actions and the environment that surrounds her, the reader is given an accurate portrayal of Elisa's many character traits. However, Elisa's most profound traits are her loneliness, her sexual repression, and her role and desire as a nurturer. Throughout the story, the author provides a very accurate view of these attributes.
The story begins by introducing the setting: "The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and the rest of the world" (1269). This vivid illustration unconsciously gives the reader a look into the dominating theme-Elisa's loneliness. However, it is not until the climax of the story that the reader begins to notice Elisa's true pain and need for her own self-identity.
The fog "sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot"(1269). Elisa has no place to go from her current position. She is confined to her garden and isolated from all that is outside this "closed pot" (1269). Moreover, the fog, like a closed society, keeps things in step and restrained. These borders dominate her and her actions throughout the story.
Another piece of the setting which plays an equally important role is the fence that surrounds Elisa's garden. It is a reoccurring symbol that represents the barriers that separate Elisa's garden from her husband and the rest of the world: "he [Henry] leaned over the wire fence that protected her flower garden from cattle and dogs and chickens" (1270). Henry always approaches...