In his short story, The Chrysanthemums John Steinbeck describes a person who at one point understands that her life lacks meaning and value at least in the eyes of other people. The protagonist Elisa Allen feels that her life is deprived of emotional and intellectual intimacy. To some degree, this short story reminds me of a famous novel Madame Bovary written by Gustave Flaubert. The thing is that in both cases, female protagonists feel deeply dissatisfied with the quality of their family life and their social role. This character is symbolic because Elisa Allen represents many women who are misunderstood and underappreciated by society.
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There are several details of this short story that seem very perplexing. One of them is the complete lack of emotional intimacy between Elisa and her husband, Henry. They appear to be friends or business partners, but not a married couple. For instance, Henry is unable to understand his wife feels frustrated, and he is inattentive to her behavior. Steinbeck tells the story from a third-person perspective, but he shows the world through the eyes of the protagonist.
In this way, he was able to demonstrate what kind of problems this woman faced. Certainly, it is possible to argue that such a description is subjective because it disregards the thoughts and feelings of Elisa’s husband.
This text is full of images and symbols that give us an insight into the inner world of the protagonist. At the very beginning, the author compares the valley, where the family farm is located, to “a closed pot” which is not penetrated by sunshine (Steinbeck, 416). The writer uses this image to demonstrate how depressed Elisa was. Another detail can attract the attention of the reader. During a conversation with Henry, Elisa suggests that she can help her husband. She says, “Maybe I could do it, too. I have a gift with things, all right” (Steinbeck, 417). However, Henry attaches little importance to this remark. This detail shows that Elisa found it difficult to prove her ability to help her husband. In this way, this passage suggests that the main character was underappreciated by her husband.
It is also important to speak about the symbolism of the chrysanthemums. On the one hand, they signify Elisa’s aspiration for beauty. She is extremely good at growing these flowers, but very few people appreciate this talent. This is the most valuable gift that she can make to another person. She gives shoots of chrysanthemums to a man (a tinker) that comes to their farm, but later he throws them away as something utterly useless.
When Elisa learns that her gift has been thrown away, she feels broken. Apart from that, Steinbeck attracts the readers’ attention that Elisa does not have very intimate relations with her husbands. This is one of the reasons why she becomes so attracted to tinker. Yet, he rejected her as a woman.
Overall, this short story gives us deep insights into the world of a woman whose emotional life is deeply unsatisfying. There are two reasons for this discontent. First, one can speak about a lack of attention toward her aspirations, talents, and ambitions. Yet, Elisa feels frustration because no one thinks about her emotional life and the need for intimacy. The tragedy of her situation is that she does not want to express her discontent and other people are unable to see she is unhappy.
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Steinbeck, John. “The Chrysanthemums.” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar Roberts and Robert Zweig. New York: Prentice Hall, 2011. Print.