Filled story, Steinbeck enhances “The Chrysanthemums” by

Filled with symbolism, John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums” is an overwhelming portrayal of a woman’s struggles in a world dominated by man. Steinbeck encompasses the vision of an intelligent woman imprisoned inside the man’s ideal world; where the males run everything of importance while their female counterparts watch. In this story, Steinbeck enhances “The Chrysanthemums” by using symbolism, characterization and theme.The state of weather of Salinas Valley corresponds fundamentally with symbolism in the story. Just as the fog has settled over the valley as if it were a lid on a pot, Elisa seems to be enclosed inside the fence that keeps animals from her garden. The phrase “…a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot.” relates directly to Elisa. As we all know, if you add a lid to a pot of boiling water, then the water will heat up quicker than if the lid was not there. This means that Elisa’s life is full of tension, in which her life is almost reaching to a boiling point. The clothes that Elisa wears before the encounter with the Tinker also plays an important function in the story. Elisa’s clothing changes as her masculine character becomes more feminine after the visit from the Tinker. In the initial part of the story as Elisa works in her garden, she is dressed somewhat androgynously, “a man’s black hat pulled low down over her eyes, clod-hopper shoes, a figured print dress almost completely covered by a big corduroy apron”. This “gardening costume” symbolizes how the male gender diminishes her femininity. Even though Elisa believes that she is capable of more, her husband only teases her when it comes to engaging in more activities on the farm. By wearing the gardening outfit, Elisa feels as if she is an important part of the ranch, as if dressing up like a male would increase her usefulness. ¬†Another strong symbol is the chrysanthemums. Like her, the flowers are pretty and strong but only flourish in the flowerbed inside the garden protected by the wire fence. Elisa identifies herself with the flowers, even saying that she becomes one with the plants when she tends to them. The Tinker’s rejection of the flowers later in the story mimics the way society has rejected women as nothing more than housekeepers. Just like her, the flowers are unimportant: both are solely decorative and have little value to the male-dominated society, as seen when the Tinker tosses away the flowers that Elisa gives him. John Steinbeck portrays Elisa as a woman who feels that she can do much more but is held down by the males in her society. There are only three characters in this story: the strong, passionate yet neglected lady, the mediocre tinker and the oblivious husband. Steinbeck portrays Elisa as a talented hard-working woman who longs for fulfillment and acceptance from the opposite gender. She’s ignored at every turn: having a professional career is not an option for her, her offers of helping her husband in farming and business are treated with disdain and her wish to see the world is shrugged off as an unfit desire for a woman to have. Elisa glorifies the Tinker as mysterious and smart, although it’s hard to tell whether he is actually any of the two things. Although his misspelled advertisement on his wagon which shows that he has received very little schooling, the Tinker comes across as a witty man who banters with Elisa. The Tinker, flirting with Elisa, appears to be the Casanova of business. Of course, it seems to Elisa that he has a brilliant mindset and she envies him for his freedom on the road, but the Tinker is poor and uneducated. When Elisa laughs, he “caught up her laughter and echoed it heartily.” When something is echoed, it’s often synthetic, or, to put it frankly, fake. So when the Tinker laughs, is he actually laughing or is he just buttering up Elisa so he could eat for the night. It becomes more apparent when “the laughter had disappeared from his face and eyes the moment his laughing voice ceased.” Later, the Tinker literally searches the ground to find something to converse about, which makes it clear that he wants to stay on the ranch to sweet talk his way into Elisa’s piggy bank. And as soon as he asks about Elisa’s chrysanthemums, “the irritation and resistance melted from Elisa’s face.” It’s clear that Elisa is intrigued by the Tinker and his lifestyle. By the standards of his society, Henry, Elisa’s husband, is everything a woman should want in a husband: he provides for her, treats her with respect, and takes her out for a date every once and awhile. At the same time, nonetheless, Henry is also impassive and unimaginative. When Elisa asks Henry what he means when he says that she looks nice, he goes with a “…you look strong enough to break a calf over your knee, happy enough to eat it like a watermelon.” With this, we know that Henry will never measure up to the Tinker’s standards in charisma. A traditional man, Henry functions in the story as a representative of the patriarchal society as a whole. He believes that a strict line separates the sexes, that women like dinner and movies and that men like fights and ranching, where there is no way of crossing that line. His dismissive attitude toward his wife highlights society’s inability to treat women as equals.Elisa is passionate and ambitious but all these qualities go to waste. Seeing the two men in the story are apathetic and less talented than she, we can assume that gender inequality exists in their society at the time. Henry is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, who obviously no match, intellectually, for Elisa, but still runs the ranch and supports himself and his wife. The Tinker, on the other hand, is reasonably less successful than Henry (although, more intelligent) and is even less passionate than Elisa, but still leads a better life with freedom. The Tinker gets to live a life of adventure, which Elisa envies him for. Steinbeck uses Henry and the Tinker as substitutes for the oppression of patriarchal societies in general – just as they ignore women’s potential, so too does society. This shows the theme of gender inequality. The theme of self disatifictation is also apparent. No character in the world of “The Chrysanthemums” seems content. In the story, a sense of dissatisfaction arises from one main source: a failure to successfully express oneself. This is connected to the theme of isolation, because the more dissatisfied the characters become with their circumstances, the more alone they feel. Elisa seems really dissatisfied with her lifestyle and it seems as if she would prefer a life of a man more than a life of a female. Another theme is transformation. Transformations in “The Chrysanthemums” are small, subtle, at times barely even noticeable. But if we pay attention, we see that Elisa goes through a number of these small changes throughout the course of this rather short story: shifts in tone, changes in mood, transformations in appearance. And as Shrek famously puts it, “Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.” In this sense, Elisa would be like an ogre, with each transformation peeling back another layer of Elisa’s complex inner life. John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums” proves that he had an understanding of the plights women faced and still face today. He does an amazing job of creating an insightful story that portrays ideas such as gender inequality, patriarchy and gender stereotyping. Although written decades ago this story is still relevant to today’s society and culture. Steinbeck’s short story features realistic dialogue, nerve-racking drama, a horrifying conclusion and sympathetic examinations of characters trying to find strength in the face of oppression, thus using symbolism, characterization and theme to enhance the chilling tale of “The Chrysanthemums.”