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Symbolism in “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck


Symbols are the types of stylistic devices which writers use in order to extend people’s perception of the story. Symbolism is a very frequently used way of text representation. This special type allows the writer not to express his/her ideas directly. The expression of the plot and author’s thoughts are provided through different symbols. There are a lot of different examples of symbolic literature. “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck is a great example of author’s using of symbols in the story to illustrate Elisa Allen. The change in Elisa’s mood is directly reflected on flowers.

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Elisa Allen is the wife of one farmer, who did not pay much attention to his wife. The only Elisa’s joy was her flowers which cared about greatly. Elisa wanted to love and to be loved. This desire is seen in her behavior, how she cares about flowers: as if her care about flowers could be directed on her. Elisa wanted to love and wanted to be loved. Her care about flowers symbolizes her desire to care about herself n order to gain her husband’s attention. The husband’s low attention is seen from Elisa’s appearance description, “Her face lean and strong…Her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume, a man’s black hat pulled low…clod-hopper shoes…completely covered by a big corduroy apron…” (Steinbeck 2002)

The phrase “I wish you’d work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big” (Steinbeck 2002) shows how little Elisa’s husband cares about his wife’s chrysanthemums. The fact that chrysanthemums symbolize Elisa Allen in this situation shows Elisa’s husband’s relation to her, his low interest to her.

The confirmation of the fact that flowers symbolize Elisa is also shown in the situation, where a man (the author never named his name) became interested in Elisa. The author never told the reader that the man began to be interested in Elisa: he was interested in flowers.

  • “What’s them plants, ma’am?”
  • “Oh, those are chrysanthemums, giant whites and yellows. I raise them every year, bigger than anybody around here.”
  • “Kind of a long-stemmed flower? Looks like a quick puff of colored smoke?” he asked.
  • “That’s it. What a nice way to describe them.” (Steinbeck 2002)

This conversation started with Elisa being irritated. After the first phrase, “The irritation and resistance melted from Elisa’s face” (Steinbeck 2002). Elisa understood that she interested somebody as woman and she was happy about that. That happiness was impossible to not to notice: “Why–why, Elisa. You look so nice!” (Steinbeck 2002), her husband said. At that moment Elisa was compared with the flowers, she was also the same beautiful and in blossom.

The situation with the flower thrown away is also very symbolic. It tells us Elisa, like flower was used by that man and when he was tired of her just threw it way, like the flower from the car. That is all.

The last phrase in the story may be also interpreted in different ways. “She turned up her coat collar so he could not see that she was crying weakly – like an old woman.” (Steinbeck 2002) The connection of the Elisa with flowers may offer some interpretations of this phrase. The man, who she trusted, had betrayed her, by throwing away her flowers and she was like that thrown away flower, abandoned and hurt.

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In sum, the flowers in the story represented Elisa, her mood, character and other facts which influenced her life. When she was happy, her flowers were also in blossom, and when the man abandoned her the flowers were on the ground.

Works Cited

Steinbeck, John. The Chrysanthemums. The Gale Group , 2002.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, October 29). Symbolism in “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck. Retrieved from


StudyCorgi. (2021, October 29). Symbolism in “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck.

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"Symbolism in “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck." StudyCorgi, 29 Oct. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "Symbolism in “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck." October 29, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Symbolism in “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck." October 29, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Symbolism in “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck." October 29, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Symbolism in “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck'. 29 October.

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