Analysis of "The Chrysanthemums"
John Steinbeck's short story "The Chrysanthemums" revolves around the character Elisa. She lives on a ranch with her husband and is very isolated from the world. Yearning for a more fulfilling life, Elisa falls prey to momentary attractions and ends up being crushed for her efforts. In this story, Steinbeck uses chrysanthemums to portray her emotions, for example when her shoots get destroyed her heart goes the same way. Elisa never lets anyone in her life, but finally, when she opens herself up for a change and becomes vulnerable, she gets shattered.
The only joy in Elisa's life are her chrysanthemums, and Steinbeck uses them to represent Elisa's life, unchanging, the same year round. Overtime however, the chrysanthemums aren't enough for Elisa anymore. An example of this is when the narrator says, "the chrysanthemums stems seemed too small and easy for her energy." Elisa does not want to live isolated any longer, tired or bored with her present situation.
When Elisa is working in the garden "she took off a glove and put her strong fingers down into the forest of new green chrysanthemum sprouts that were growing around the old roots." Suggesting a foreshadowing about her change in lifestyle, this passage shows Elisa contemplating a new direction in her life. Elisa's flower garden, fenced and closed off from the rest off the world, represents her heart and the fence is always protected, and rarely opened, showing how Elisa never lets anyone in her life. The fence also suggests Elisa's isolation from the world, cut off, alone.
Elisa's husband is never invited inside the fence because he does not recognize or appreciate her femininity, but as the tinker comes along he plays off her untapped emotions by being nice to her and by admiring her chrysanthemums. He gets invited in her garden which shows that Elisa has finally been able to make something new come into her life. He renews her feelings of femininity and sexuality as a woman. He takes advantage of her emotions so much, that she gives him a pot with fresh chrysanthemum shoots, suggesting that she is giving him the symbol of her heart, the flower of her sexuality. These shoots represent the new Elisa. Elisa's giving of the flowers is her only attempt within the story to take charge and make an initiative change in her daily life. The shoots represent a new beginning and are symbolic of finally moving on.
The encounter with the tinker gives Elisa hope and causes her to prepare for a more fulfilling life. Later, however she realizes that her lifestyle is not to be changed when she notices, destroyed on the ground, the shoots that she had given to the tinker. The crushed and discarded flowers symbolize her disappointment and show that her lifestyle will not change. This scene destroys her dreams, her last hope in achieving a better life forever gone. She realizes that she has been fooled and that the tinker has also failed to appreciate her femininity. Elisa cannot accept this disappointment, and therefore fails at changing.
Finally, when Elisa sees a "bright direction" in her life, and is about to bloom, she gets utterly betrayed. Steinbeck has portrayed Elisa's character and emotions through the use of chrysanthemums. He describes her unchanging personality as her flowers, staying the same, year after year. Elisa makes a mistake by unsealing her heart to a stranger and, letting him in to her garden. However, this man gives her something special, but also takes it away from her, leaving her in a devastating situation. When she notices the flowers, crushed on the road, her emotions get crushed and, she realizes that her life will remain unchanged for the rest of her life.