John Steinbeck’s The ChrysanthemumsThe short story “The Chrysanthemums,” by John Steinbeck, is a multi-layered work that contains various symbolic meanings, it is said to be “…one of the best things he ever did” (Parini 146). It has been hailed as a great short story not for the depiction of a cattleman and his wife, but for it’s symbolic meanings. Steinbeck was known for writing about his “…strong rebellion against any repressive power in civilization’s power bloc and his strong sensitivity toward any repressed individual” (Timmerman 177).This sensitivity toward repressed individuals is quite evident through the portrayal of the confined cattleman’s wife, Elisa, and her encounter with the tinker. Though Steinbeck often struggled with writing his stories, it is said that this one was one of the hardest for him to write (Timmerman 38). It was a “story of a woman he couldn’t get out of his mind” (Timmerman 169). “The Chrysanthemums” is symbolic of Elisa’s failed attempt to escape her mechanical life and the domestic sphere that entraps her femininity and her true self.
The symbolic nature of this story relies on the creation of images of isolation, routine/mechanical lives, and oppression. A feeling of the isolation of the couple and Elisa individually is created through the description of the setting, “As in much of his fiction, this story opens with a personified landscape, a paysage moralise in which the weather and geographical setting are deeply symbolic gesturing in the direction of the story’s ultimate meaning” (Parini 210). It is described as being “…closed off …from the sky and the rest of the world” (Steinbeck 213). This isolation is further developed as the reader learns that the couple goes into town …
…ations. Metuchen: Scarecrow P, 1992.
French, Warren. John Steinbeck’s Fiction Revisited. Ed. Frank Day. New York: Twayne, 1994.
Hapke, Laura. Daughters of the Great Depression: Women, Work, and Fiction in the American 1930’s. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1995.
Leroy, Thomas. “Steinbeck’s THE CHRYSANTHEMUMS”: Explicator 45.3 (Spring 1987): 50-51.
Parini, Jay. John Steinbeck: A Biography. Markham: Fitzhenry Ltd, 1995.
Steinbeck, John. “The Chrysanthemums.” 1934. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Eds. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 3rd. ed. New York: Longman, 2002. 221-220.
“Symbol” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Eds. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 3rd. ed. New York: Longman, 2002. 210-212.
Timmerman, John H. The Dramatic Landscape of Steinbeck’s Short Stories. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1990.