Literary Analysis of John Steinbeck's short story, Chrysanthemum

Essay by kmcbride121College, UndergraduateA+, November 2014

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Katherine McBride

Professor Taylor


26 March 2013

Elisa, the Chrysanthemum

John Steinbeck, author of The Chrysanthemums, writes a short story whose central character is a woman, Elisa, who is discontented with her marriage and life. Elisa's prized chrysanthemums symbolically represent her in the story. The chrysanthemums symbolize Elisa's character, her troubled marriage and reveal her suppressed sexuality and womanhood.

The chrysanthemums and Elisa undoubtedly share emotional and physical characteristics. The chrysanthemum is a hardy, strong plant with delicate petals and stems. Steinbeck describes Elisa as being masculine in her physique. "Her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume…Her face was eager and mature and handsome, even her work with the scissors was over-eager, over-powerful." This hardy and tough exterior Elisa projects with her physical appearance is a defense against her emotional fragility. More specifically, it reveals her discontent with her relationship with her husband and her life on the farm.

Elisa treats herself how she treats her plant. Elisa is too rough on herself and has neglected her own needs as a woman in the same way she is overly aggressive with her prized chrysanthemums. Steinbeck continues then to describe the chrysanthemums, "The chrysanthemum stems seemed to small and easy for her energy" (1068). In other words, she has a tough exterior but the flowers reveal through their delicate stems that emotionally she is fragile. Elisa connects deeply with the chrysanthemums and derives meaning and purpose from growing them, which her husband Henry does not understand.

Henry is unaware of her acute longings to be valued, appreciated and to be more than just an unadventurous farmer's wife. "He had come near quietly, and he leaned over the wire fence that protected her flower garden…" (1068). The wire fence around her chrysanthemums that Henry...