Chrysanthemums By Steinback A good writer has many tools at hand that help them develop good story lines. There are literary techniques such as voice, point of view, character, theme, and symbolism. One very interesting technique is that of symbolism. With symbolism the author is able to write a story in which many of the actions around the main character seem to enhance the way the character develops. The use of symbolism to develop the characters is easy to see in the short story “the chrysanthemums” by John Steinback.
In this story Steinback writes of a woman who lives on a farm; but the woman feels trapped, and wishes that she could free herself. The author uses both the time of year and the location to develop a setting that compliments the feelings of the main character. The story starts off saying, “The high Gray-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from the rest of the world.”(Steinback 267)from the first sentence the author is developing a setting that compliments the character. At this point in time of the story nothing is known about the Elisa Allen, but this quote about how the Salinas valley is closed off from the world is a symbol of the struggle that Elisa is soon to face. The second sentence of this story reinforces that the this place is isolated by saying, “On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made the great valley a closed pot. “(Steinback 267) The symbol of a closed pot works in conjunction with the first sentence to give an idea to the extent of how hard it would be to escape the pressure of the isolation that Elisa is feeling.
The symbol of living on a farm helps Steinback show Elisa’s isolation. Location is not the only symbol that Stinback uses in this story to symbolize Elisa Allen’s character. Setback uses time in this story to compliment the location. In the second paragraph the author develops the character even more by writing, “it was a time of quiet and waiting. The air was cold and tender.
A light wind blew up from the southwest so that the farmers were mildly hopeful of a good rain before long; but fog and rain do not go together.”(Steinback 267) From this line much may be derived about Elisa Smith’s character. The quiet waiting symbolizes how Elisa is silently waiting for something to happen. Elisa can not say much about her current situation, she has to calmly weight for something to happen. This can be seen when her husband jokes about her going to the fights with her. At the time she says nothing, because it would be absurd for her to go with him. However, after she grows up at the end of the story she expresses her interest to go with him. The symbol of the possibly of rain shows how Elisa anticipates that something interesting in her life may happen, but deep down she knows that there is a very low probability that anything would actually happen.
Elisa’s bath is another good symbol that Steinback uses to develop Elisa’s character. When she, “scrubbed herself with a little block of pumice. . . until her skin was scratched and red.”(Steinback 273) she was scrubbing away the skin that bound her into her conventional role.
After this bath she had the courage to ask henry if they could have wine at the dinner tonight, and that they may possibly go to the fights together. After her bath she realized how strong she was by saying, ” [I am strong,] she boasted. [I never knew how strong.]”(Steinback 273) After this bath of hers she became more beautiful to her husband. He noted “Why – why Elisa you look so nice.”(Steinback 273) the bath changed Elisa so much that she now even appears to be a different person to her husband henry. Throughout the story Steinback drops many symbols that pertain to Elisa’s character.
It is not until the end of the story that all of these symbols take on full meaning. A person who read this story only once may not pick up on the symbol of the valley holding Elisa back, confining her to do conventional woman’s tasks. The time symbol in the story shows how Elisa is anticipating that something would happen to change the way that things are. Then the bath where Elisa cleanses herself from the confining restrictive role symbolizes the moment in time where Elisa grows up to be a woman. All these symbols work together to show Elisa Allen’s character.
Without them this story would have had a simple plot line where a woman grows some flowers, and then goes out with her husband. However, with all the symbols there is a story about a woman who is struggling with herself to break free from the traditional woman’s role, and in the end learns that she has grown up to become a woman.