It would be presumptuous to categorically state that the inspiration for this story was based solely on Steinbeck's personal experiences, but certain elements could be considered autobiographical. For example, although he never got a degree, Steinbeck studied both botany and biology at Stanford University and had a sustained interest in these fields all his life. He knew something, too, about relational problems in marriage, as he was married and divorced several times. Lack of identity (for the woman, in particular) and an evergrowing sense of frustration come through "The Chrsysanthemums" well before the feminist issues of the 60s:
It concerns a married couple and examines the psychology of the unhappiness their marriage causes. Finally, it contains many vivid images of the seasons, weather, plants, and animals, all of which fascinated the writer his entire life. One of Steinbeck's biographers, Jackson J. Bennett, has suggested that the character of the protagonist, Elisa Allen, was based on Steinbeck's first wife, a bright and energetic woman who gave up her career to follow her husband. Whatever her origins, Elisa is a woman who loves her husband, but whose life is narrow and unexciting, limited in what she can become by geography and opportunity.
- from eNotes.com/chrysanthemums
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