Essay about John Steinbeck's The Chrysanthemums

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John Steinbeck's The Chrysanthemums

The 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
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Also encircled by a wire fence that protects her flowers, she is entrapped symbolically; this entrapment will be discussed further later.

Not only is the couple isolated, they seem to lead a rather routine mechanical life. The husband is a “…dull but well-intentioned farmer” (Parini 210). He is described as “put[ing] on his joking tone,” implying that this is something unusual for him, that he deliberately does it (Steinbeck 214). Though Elisa is at first portrayed as “lean and strong” even she is later described in a mechanical, almost robotic, way as being “blocked and heavy” (Steinbeck 213). There is also a routine cyclic pattern set forth, a mechanical operation. She is cutting down last year’s chrysanthemums and starting new ones for this year, as it is implied she does every year. And then, as they prepare to go out to dinner (out of the usual pattern) she methodically lays out his suit, tie, and shoes. Henry, her husband, is also involved in this pattern; he does his daily work, farming, and she takes care of him and the house. This routine also reflects Elisa’s oppression; she is trapped into her role as caregiver.

Elisa’s oppression and entrapment is a result of the domestic sphere that females of the time were contained in. Maureen Devine

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