53 pages 1 hour read

John Steinbeck

The Chrysanthemums

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1937

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more. For select classroom titles, we also provide Teaching Guides with discussion and quiz questions to prompt student engagement.

Symbols & Motifs

The Chrysanthemums

In literature, flowers often represent youth, beauty, and pleasure. This is certainly true for Elisa. Chrysanthemums are thick-stemmed, large flowers that bloom in many jewel-like colors. Like the chrysanthemum stems that she is energetically trimming when the story opens, Elisa is tough. Steinbeck even describes her face as “lean and strong” and “handsome” (1). However, the blooms of chrysanthemum flowers are delicate and beautiful, representing Elisa’s feminine attributes and desires.

Elisa views the chrysanthemums as an extension of herself. When the Tinker notices the flowers and asks about them, Elisa becomes almost giddy with excitement. In her mind, the Tinker was noticing her, including her youth and beauty. Her offer to give the Tinker the chrysanthemum stalks is, in essence, an offer of herself. She is thrilled to be sharing herself, both symbolically by giving him the flowers and literally by speaking so openly. Like the flowers, she seems dormant, waiting for gentle attention to help her take root and grow.

Elisa feels she has found someone who will give her attention and notices her. The passage in which Elisa almost touches the Tinker is the closest the reader gets to seeing Elisa “bloom.” Her bloom is short-lived, however.