The Symbolic Meaning of the Chrysanthemums


The Chrysanthemums is a famous short story of John Steinbeck, the American writer, who is well-known for The Grapes of Wrath (1939), the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. By the way, in 1962, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. John is also famous for his five great collections of short stories, including the Chrysanthemums, which is definitely worth talking about. This short story is believed to be fully flooded with the symbolic rhetoric. Thus, it is evident that, to define these symbols, it is of a vital importance to take a closer look at the story itself and at its main character, Elisa Allen and her chrysanthemums.


Frankly speaking, the Chrysanthemums features the symbolism use, and an epiphany moment, thus helping enhance and tell a better story to the audience. So, what are the main symbols used? It is a rather abstract issue. To start with, many vivid and bright images of different seasons, weather, and animals and, of course, the main characters themselves have been tactfully included, artistically presenting the unspoken truth together with hidden realities. When looking at the story’s title, it becomes obvious that it may be regarded a symbol of the main character’s feminine side, as well as her sexuality combined with childlessness.

Secondly, the flower symbolizes the main character’s children. Tending her garden and handling the chrysanthemums with pure love and care, the reader can imagine Elisa handling her own children in the same way. What is more, Elisa carefully protects her flowers by placing a fence. By doing this, she can be certain that "no sowbugs …or cutworms" are there (240). Basically, they are regarded as the flower’s natural harm. That is why, like any good mother, before they could harm her children, she removes them. In general, the smell of the flowers is nasty, but for her, it is a good bitter smell. Chrysanthemums’ flowerbed may be regarded as Elisa’s home, where everything is clear and scrupulously ordered. It is sure that here, she identifies herself with these great flowers. Needless to add that while tending to the flowers, she even claims of becoming one of them. It is interesting that when Henry, her husband, tells her about his success in business, she replies “good for you” instead of “us”, thus clarifying that the couple does not share all with each other, including cash. This may be regarded as a symbol of her relation to her natural world. Thus, her lovely garden, along with her beloved chrysanthemums, is more valuable for her than her husband or society, in general.

On the other hand, dressed as a man, Elisa is shown limited in this story. Being protected by her man like a doll, she is not well aware of the outside world. Her man, in his turn, features a satiric utterance towards her, which is clearly seen in the following: he said that some of her chrysanthemums were rather long, claiming “You’d better work out in the orchard” growing such big apples. This statement is a symbol of his dispassion towards his wife and her work. As a result, Elisa is sad and miserable, and she is even ready to give herself to the traveler. The author shows the readers that whilst the tinker looks at the chrysanthemums, Elisa begins to brighten as if the stranger had noticed her instead. Once she proposes him the flower, at the same time, she proposes herself. But he ignores both, simply tossing aside. Needless to mention that, perhaps, the man’s rejection of Chrysanthemums is the way their society used to reject women, treating simply as mothers or housekeepers. Both the flowers and the lady are unobjectionable, unimportant, being simply decorative, and of little value to the society.


To sum up, the Chrysanthemums tends to symbolize the main character, Elisa, and her life’s limited scope.Like the chrysanthemums, Elisa is really pretty, strong, and thriving. In addition, being flooded with the symbolic rhetoric, the story describes her rather boring life and existence. What is more, Steinbeck has shown his story in a rather dramatic way, making it interesting, bright, and meaningful at the same time. The author has used lots of symbols, which provoke his readers to start thinking about various life issues.

Related essays

Invite your friends
to use our service and receive 10% from every order they place