In the short story, "The Chrysanthemums", author John Steinbeck uses a number of different elements in his story to improve it overall and to strike an emotional chord with the readers. Through an analysis of the characters, setting and symbolism in "The Chrysanthemums", it will become evident how Steinbeck developed these elements in his story and how they strengthen it as a whole.
In "The Chrysanthemums", the development of Steinbeck's characters play a large role in his story. For the most part, the protagonist Elisa faces a series of changes throughout the story. She is a woman with a very fragmented identity, making it hard for her to fulfill her true self. She is accustomed to wearing "manly" clothing and she lives with a husband who she cannot identify with. For example, when Elisa hears her husband's voice, she "straightened her back and pulled on the gardening gloves again" (pg. 2). This shows how her husband's presence changes her to become more masculine. The masculinity she tries to personify can be a sign of Elisa's strength. Additionally, when she talks to her husband, her words seem to carry a smugness, almost as if she were putting her husband down. "'Good,' she said, "Good for you'" (pg. 2). It is evident in the beginning of the story that Elisa may be trying to emulate the behavior of a man to prove herself to her husband. She is even described as "handsome" (pg. 1). Despite this, she is quite comfortable with her physicality and her actions however unsatisfied with her life. Elisa has an undying longing to truly live free but she is reluctant to pursue this life and represses herself when she feels her urges. Her only consolation is her garden of flowers, which she protects as if they were her children. As the story progresses, Elisa becomes more open and shares a connection with a peddler she meets. She is very kind to the man and shares her chrysanthemums with him "I can put some in damp sand, and you can carry them right along with you" (pg. 5).By giving him these flowers, she is giving him a piece of herself. This is a sign of her unfolding and becoming more open. Elisa feels as though the man is giving her attention which no one had really given her previously. Moreover, Elisa's descriptions change drastically over the progression of the story. Earlier she was described as "eager and mature and handsome" (pg. 1), however she is later described with more female traits "Her eyes shone, she tore off the battered hat and shook out her dark pretty hair" (pg. 5). However, she does maintain some of her masculine traits, such as her confidence and self-determination. She may be preserving her masculinity but also keeping her femininity. Furthermore, this shows the duality that Elisa may have. Her masculinity and femininity conflict with each other. These descriptions show how Elisa evolves throughout the story. Ultimately, the characters in Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums" are essential to making the story a whole. Other elements of the story such as setting also effect the characters and the story in general.
Setting is yet another aspect developed by the author to add to the story. The story takes place on a desolate and isolated farm.Isolation of the farm is a large problem for Elisa because there is no opportunities for her in life besides the ones provided to her on the farm. This also results in Elisa being unable to pursue her dreams and is a reason why Elisa cannot fully complete her transformation. The setting also contributes to developing a gloomy and tragic mood. In addition, the season is also very dark "there was no sunshine in the valley now in December" (pg. 1) This reinforces the depressing mood and also shows an emotionally dead environment with no growth. Additionally, the change from fall to winter during the story can be linked to Elisa's partial paradime shift. Moreover, "the high gray-flannel fog…sat like a lid on the mountains" (pg. 1)effectively shuts Elisa in and closes her off from the rest of the world. It is as if Elisa has her very own world. However, the setting and weather overshadow Elisa and do not let her truly find herself. She is unable to fully shine or blossom. Overall, "The Chrysanthemums'" setting,.