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The Chrysanthemums by John Steinbeck The Chrysanthemums by John Steinbeck is about a frustrated woman Elisa who feels a strong sense of feminism and loneliness in her life. She seems to be oppressed by a male-driven society. The title itself depicts as a symbol of the nature of Elisa. It is a story about a marriage which has its limitations. This story gained popularity among the critics and different opinions and views were commented on it. According to John Ditsky, the story was "one of the finest American stories ever written". John H. Timmerman termed the story as "one of Steinbeck's masterpieces". He further added that "stylistically and thematically, 'The Chrysanthemums' is a superb piece of compelling craftsmanship." While there were critics who praised his story in terms of symbolism and found his story meaningful, there were others who regarded his work as "annoyingly arty, muddy and unreal". It felt like this story was a result of John Steinbeck's inner frustration and loneliness that he experienced in his life. John Steinbeck has used a number of literary words to symbolize the nature of Elisa. Elisa seems to be a lonely woman who finds more joy and fulfillment in gardening than she does in her marital life. The flowers have been used to symbolize Elisa's soft and delicate character. The author compares Elisa'a character with the Chrysanthemums who both have a strong and rough exterior but deep inside have a compelling sense of beauty. The Chrysanthemums represent her repressed feelings and desires. She feels deeply concerned about her flowers and symbolically speaking, she needs her internal beauty to blossom. John Steinbeck mentions Elisa's face as "lean and strong and her eyes were as clear as water" (246). By this sentence, he wishes to describe the hardworking nature of Elisa as well as the softness and kindness of her soul. She tries to define her role as a woman through gardening and attempts to show off her power in a male-dominated society. While she works in the garden, the author uses a number of different words to symbolize her barriers in life. John uses the word "fence" to describe this one he says, "...and he leaned over the wire fence that protected her flower garden from cattle and dogs and chickens." What John is trying to say is that she is fenced from the harsh world filled with filth and hardships. Elisa's inner frustration and oppression can be judged from her dressing. Although she is doing a feminist work of gardening, she yet wears a black hat low to her forehead, leather gloves for her hands and clodhopper shoes for her feet. Normally, words such as gorgeous and sweet are used to describe the femininity of a woman. However, John Steinbeck provides no such kind of descriptions about Elisa. Instead he refers her as a strong, handsome and lean person. This depicts that the writer wanted to describe Elisa's character as a piece of unique beauty which can be judged at first glance. Steinbeck's use of creative and literary words in this story grasps the attention and the interest of the reader throughout the context. A comprehensive reading of the story brings us to the conclusion that the concept of the tale cannot be grasped until after looking at deeper meanings of the various symbols used in it. It depicts a female protagonist from her male perspective. The author establishes the setting of the story in the first few paragraphs. Story in "The Chrysanthemums" is plotted in such a way that a couple of scenes happen in a short time of day yet exhibiting a deep meaning. The symbolism, plot resolution and characters in The Chrysanthemums provide the reader a greater insight on the nature of women harboring suppressed feelings from the inside while appearing different on the outside. This kind of a story raises a number of questions about the character in curious minds. The author made the most out of some of the literary elements and strategies in this story to achieve the effect of theme representation and characterization.
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