Prompt: How do the chrysanthemums as well as other symbols throughout the short story show women’s role in society? A Potential for Equality Humans, just as flowers, cannot fully live without sunlight. They cannot develop without nourishment, and most of all they cannot flourish if not carefully tended to. Just as the Chrysanthemums fight to stay strong and meaningful in the short story, ‘The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck, the main character, Emily, tries to do the same. Both the setting and overall mood of the characters, support the comparison of Emily to her Chrysanthemums.
She is faced with many obstacles such as her oblivious husband and her lack of exposure to the world. Steinbeck description of the setting, his ignorant tone, and his use Of symbolism each reveal even more meaning to Elijah’s view of herself as a woman in society. Steinbeck introduces the setting by describing it as “cold and tender” with “no sunshine in the valley’ (Steinbeck 1). Not only does this description present an overall dreary mood, it symbolizes Elijah’s invisibility in the world.
With a “lid of fog’ that hides her true talents, Elise fails to be anything but ordinary in the eyes of her husband, Henry, as well as the rest of society (Steinbeck 2). Her husband appears to be everything a woman needs. He provides for her and treats her with a facade of respect. He gives her warm gestures of chivalry as well as compliments regarding her “gift with things”; but what Elise really seeks from him is a deeper level of understanding and appreciation (Steinbeck 7). Henrys ignorance of Elijah’s hard work is shown in the story when he brings up what a nice job she has does with her chrysanthemums.
As soon as Elise begins to set higher goals, such as raise other crops on their farm, Henry responds with a discouraging comment, “well, it sure works with the flowers” (Steinbeck 9). Elise initially reacts to each situation as a man would; confident and willing to try. But with given each opportunity, she is forever reminded that she is a woman” (Dickinson 3). When her husband comments about her “strong’ chrysanthemum crop, “Elise is pleased by the manliness the word implies… ” But her husband reminds her of her femininity by offering her dinner on the town (Dickinson 3-4).
This is en of the many examples in the story that shows Henrys lack of encouragement towards his wife’s aspirations. Without the nourishment from the sun in the hidden valley, the chrysanthemums cannot grow to their full potential; just as Elise is held back from the lack of support from her husband. When Elise meets the tinker she is first stern and short with him, telling him she has nothing for him to work for. But as soon as he notices her chrysanthemums, Elise becomes vulnerable and her feminine side is exposed. She allows her emotions to control her and lets go of her masculine did, freeing her central feminine sexuality” (Sweet). Elise gives the chrysanthemums to him just as she gives away herself, both of which he ignores and tosses aside. His rejection of the flowers reflects the way society has rejected women as nothing more than mothers and housekeepers (Dickinson 4). Just like her, the flowers are seen as unimportant; both just meant to decorate the world with beauty. Elise strives to prove herself worthy of the benefits men have over women, but just as the chrysanthemums are ignored, so is she.
The chrysanthemums are an essential part of Steinbeck Tory. The flowers not only represent Elise in terms of her role in society, but they resemble the struggles women fight on an everyday basis. Just like a chrysanthemum seeks nourishment, Elise fights for recognition and praise. She aches to be treated with equality, but she is only seen as a woman with little to no value. At the beginning of the story, Elise is introduced as “lean and strong’ with a blocky figure; covered with heavy clothes, clod-hopper shoes, and “a man’s black hat pulled low down over her eyes” (Steinbeck 3).
Steinbeck even refers to her as “eager and mature and handsome” (Steinbeck 3). Elijah’s frustration of being held back as a woman is reflected in her masculine description because she wishes to be treated as a man; with equality and recognition. Elijah’s hard work and passion she puts into her chrysanthemums makes her feel strong and powerful. But the chrysanthemums also symbolize Elise and her limited possibilities because they are both often overlooked. Throughout the short story, Elise has a strong connection with her chrysanthemums.
Not only does their maintenance take up most of her time, but they resemble her role in society quite figuratively. From their physical appearances to their overall meaning to the world, both the flowers and Elise lack any sort of significance. Chrysanthemums are most often referred to by their symbol of optimism and joy; which are both feelings brought to Elise as she tends to her flowers. Also being perennials, these flowers come back year after year which is represented through the reoccurring theme of Elijah’s strive to be equal.