What are the effects of the symbols used in the story?

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sagetrieb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Steinbeck structures the meaning of the story through symbols, so that their combined effect is to understand Elisa Allen as a woman who is frustrated and unhappy, unappreciated as a sexual being by her husband, and losing understanding of her own self worth. The Salinas Valley is described as isolated, just as Elisa feels isolated.  She wears “heavy leather gloves” because she is no longer understood as a sensual person, now digging in the earth and growing flowers as a way to express a femininity otherwise lost. Giving the tinker man the chrysanthemums becomes, symbolically, a very sexual act. The appearance of the flowers, a golden center surrounded by pointy petals, resembles the description she provides of a starry night, which is very sexual in its detail:  “When the sky is dark—why, the stars are sharp pointed, and there’s quiet.  Why, you rise up and up!  Every pointed star gets driven into your body…Hot and sharp and—lovely.”  When she finds he has tossed the pot of chrysanthemums away, she returns to her old self, only feeling even worse, “crying weakly—like an old woman.”

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The Chrysanthemums

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