The Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums Symbol Analysis

Chrysanthemums Symbol Icon

Throughout the story, Elisa’s chrysanthemums symbolize Elisa herself, and particularly connote her latent, limited potential. Her direct association with the lovely, strong flowers implies her beauty along with her innate ability to create and sustain life. The garden plot is meticulously cared for and well-kept, much like everything else in Elisa’s small world. Not only does Elisa fuss over her chrysanthemums as if they were her children, cutting down spent stalks with her powerful scissors and encouraging new growth, but she directly equates herself with the flowers upon the arrival of the tinker: while talking about her “planter’s hands,” she passionately describes how she becomes one with the plants at the same time that she offers herself to the tinker sexually. Like her beautiful flowers, though, Elisa is penned in; however capable or extraordinary she may be, her life is distinctly limited in scope and she has few outlets beyond tending to a small garden. This is because, as a woman—and particularly a farmer’s wife—Elisa is restricted by society to the roles of caregiver and housewife. By offering some bulbs to the tinker, then, Elisa is symbolically giving part of herself to him, in the hopes of escaping the stifling monotony of her lot. That the tinker callously tosses the flowers aside represents his ultimate rejection of Elisa, as well as the broader, societal thwarting of her attempts to seek more out of life.

Chrysanthemums Quotes in The Chrysanthemums

The The Chrysanthemums quotes below all refer to the symbol of Chrysanthemums. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of The Chrysanthemums published in 1956.
The Chrysanthemums Quotes

“You’ve got a gift with things,” Henry observed. “Some of those yellow chrysanthemums you had this year were ten inches across. I wish you’d work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big.”

Related Characters: Henry Allen (speaker), Elisa Allen
Related Symbols: Chrysanthemums
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:
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She tried no to look as they passed it, but her eyes would not obey. She whispered to herself sadly, “He might have thrown them off the road. That wouldn’t have been much trouble, not very much. But he kept the pot,” she exclaimed. “He had to keep the pot. That’s why he couldn’t get them off the road.”

Related Characters: Elisa Allen (speaker), The Tinker
Related Symbols: Chrysanthemums
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chrysanthemums Symbol Timeline in The Chrysanthemums

The timeline below shows where the symbol Chrysanthemums appears in The Chrysanthemums. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Chrysanthemums
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
...the field talking to two men in business suits, Elisa busies herself in her small chrysanthemum garden. At thirty-five, her appearance is strong and masculine, and she aggressively cuts down the... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
...Elisa is startled by his sudden appearance. He compliments Elisa’s ability to grow such large chrysanthemums and suggests that she apply her gardening skills in the orchard, growing apples instead. Elisa... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
...Henry departs to bring the cattle down from the mountain, she continues working in her chrysanthemum garden. (full context)
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
...tinker searches for another way to secure work from Elisa, his eyes fall on the chrysanthemum garden where she has been working and he engages her in a conversation about her... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
...brand-new pot. She kneels in the garden and, forgetting her gloves, begins to unearth fresh chrysanthemum sprouts to give to the tinker. As she digs, Elisa tells the tinker how his... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
Elisa reminds the tinker to keep the sand moist in the pot of chrysanthemums. The tinker responds, “Sand, ma’am?” and drives his wagon away from Elisa’s farm. As Elisa... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
...road and instantly knows what it is. She tries to ignore the sight of her chrysanthemum sprouts discarded on the side of the road, “but her eyes would not obey.” As... (full context)