What might be a good thesis statement for an essay on the short story "The Chrysanthemums," by John Steinbeck, especially if one were trying to imagine the story being made into a film?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Steinbeck’s famous short story “The Chrysanthemums” might easily provide the basis for a successful short film. The story has a lucid plot, memorable characters, an interesting setting, and intriguing symbolism. An effective thesis for an essay about turning this story into a film might read as follows:

One aspect of John Steinbeck’s short story “The Chrysanthemums” that could be effectively suggested in a film is the theme of growing old, both literally and figuratively – a theme that might be conveyed in a film through the use of various kinds of symbolism.

Aging, or growing old, is a frequent topic of the story. In fact, the opening sentence of the story establishes a wintertime setting, and of course winter is often presented as the end of the “life-cycle” of any given year. Likewise, old age is often thought of as the “winter” of one’s life, and so it is not surprising that this story takes place in wintertime, since the story’s main character, in the very final sentence of the work, is described as “crying weakly--like an old woman.” Thus the story actually begins and ends with both symbolic and literal allusions to aging. In between the story’s first and final sentences, many references to aging occur, including the following:

  • At one point, the narrator says of Elisa that

She was cutting down the old year's chrysanthemum stalks with a pair of short and powerful scissors.

This sentence raises the symbolic possibility of renewing something by reversing the process of aging. Of course, human beings cannot literally reverse the aging process, but they can for various reasons feel renewed and rejuvenated, and this is what happens (at least briefly) to Elisa in this story.

  • Later the narrator says of Elisa that she
took off a glove and put her strong fingers down into the forest of new green chrysanthemum sprouts that were growing around the old roots.

Once again, the symbolic possibility of renewal is suggested here.

Literal and symbolic references to aging and to being “old” can be found throughout the story, and so can literal and symbolic references to renewal and rejuvenation. A film based on this story might therefore want to highlight, through its general imagery and close-up photography, such symbols of aging and of youth, of growing old and of feeling young.

Early allusions in the story to aging and growing old all help to foreshadow the final sentence of the work, and it is easy to imagine how, in a film, Elisa might be presented as a weak and weeping old woman.


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The Chrysanthemums

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