John Steinbeck's 'The Chrysanthemums' Essay

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“The Chrysanthemums”

Major themes in this literary masterpiece include marriage, loneliness and self-expression (Biography). Steinbeck uses a young wife’s love for gardening and her care for her precious Chrysanthemums to symbolize her femininity as well as her broken marriage (Symbolism).   Elisa Allen is introduced to the reader as a thirty-five year old wife and avid gardener. She is married to Henry Allen and together they live seemingly peaceful, quiet ranching lives in the valleys of California. Her physical appearance is described as hard working and somewhat rough. For example, “her face was lean and strong and her eyes were as clear as water. Her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume, a man’s black hat pulled low down over her eyes” (Steinbeck 258). These traits show Elisa’s rugged individualistic side in contrast to what we later see as her nurturing, womanly side. This is exemplified in the care that she shows in casual conversation with the traveling salesman. If she were to let her flowers die, she would lose a part of her marriage that she needs but cannot have.
Henry Allen is an innocent rancher and the husband to Elisa. His first major scene in the story comes when he prides himself in the sale of thirty head of steers despite Elisa expressing her interest in her flowers. Henry continues with, “I wish you’d work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big” (Steinbeck 259). Though Henry does not outwardly show distaste or disinterest in Elisa’s passions, he does little to support her in such endeavors. Such lack of interest in his wife’s successes is an example of what is dragging their relationship down. Henry’s lighthearted tone with Elisa works to assure the reader at first that all is well with the marriage. For example, after Henry offers to take her out for dinner he continues, “How’d you like to go to the fights? Just fooling, Elisa. We’ll go to a movie” (Steinbeck 260).
One of the main sources of relief for...

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