The Chrysanthemums Questions and Answers
by John Steinbeck

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In “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck, how does the setting of the Salinas Valley affect or inform the possible themes of the story?

In Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums,” the setting of the Salinas Valley symbolizes the story’s theme of confinement.

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The Chrysanthemums” represents how Elisa is restrained by the cultural forces that limit a woman’s agency. From the opening lines of the story, we get a sense of Elisa’s confinement in the description of the setting:

The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world. On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot.

The word “closed” appears twice in the first two lines, reinforcing the sense of confinement. We are introduced to Elisa, who is further enclosed “in her flower garden” inside a “wire fence,” symbolically cutting her off from the rest of the ranch where she and her husband Henry live. Inside the fence she is tending to her chrysanthemums, which, though...

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