illustrated profile of a woman's head with cracks running through it set against a chrysanthemum background

The Chrysanthemums

by John Steinbeck

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What is the significance of the landscape, weather, fog, and fence in "The Chrysanthemums"?

Quick answer:

Elisa is attached to the land and her garden. She feels that she's not a part of the larger world, but this is because she doesn't see herself as important. She believes that "nothing grows." In fact, a lot does grow - in her mind and in her garden - but she's unable to take credit for it.

Expert Answers

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Elisa's sense of self-worth is tied to the land. She's connected to the season, the climate, and the terrain in which she lives. The author sets the mood of the story with the winter fog, which also correlates to Elisa's mood. The valley is compared to a "closed pot" with "no sunshine", and this parallels Elisa's life at that point. The land, Elisa's only field of action, is dormant in the winter.  She is earthbound and tied to her garden, but she's also held down by the garden. This is why she's so excited to talk to the man who doesn't seem to be bound to anything. He's free to travel and wander.

Elisa is both a part of the larger landscape and a small figure in an enclosed area. This is shown when Steinbeck, the author, gives the reader a panoramic view of the valley, and then he zooms in on the ranch in the valley and Elisa's garden. By going back and forth, we get a real sense of Elisa's longing to see the world beyond the ranch, but we also feel the safety and security the ranch and her garden provides for her.

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