The Chrysanthemums


John Steinbeck

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Scissors Symbol Icon

Throughout “The Chrysanthemums” scissors connote a sense of masculine power and control. Elisa is rarely without her scissors throughout most of the story. She has a special pocket in her apron devoted to her scissors and she uses them in her chrysanthemum garden to cut down the previous season’s growth. In her garden, Elisa’s “short and powerful scissors” serve as a phallic symbol, causing her feminine work to appear “over-eager” and “over-powerful.” That she uses scissors to trim the plants at once suggests a certain stifling of her potential, and an assertive care that allows for new growth. When the tinker arrives on Elisa’s property, much of their conversation revolves around scissors. Steinbeck draws additional attention to the tool by misspelling “sisors” on the side of the tinker’s wagon, and the tinker boasts about his ability to sharpen even the dullest of blades: “Most people just ruin scissors trying to sharpen ‘em, but I know how.” Given the previous connotation of the tools with masculinity, this suggests a certain manly prowess, even as the misspelling subtly mocks the tinker’s expertise in contrast to Elisa’s. No matter how adept Elisa may be with the tools, however, their power is unavailable to her specifically because of her gender; even as she insists she can “sharpen scissors too,” the tinker tells her his lifestyle “would be a lonely life for a woman.”

Scissors Quotes in The Chrysanthemums

The The Chrysanthemums quotes below all refer to the symbol of Scissors. 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

She was thirty-five. Her face was lean and strong and her eyes were clear as water. Her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume, a man’s black hat pulled low down over her eyes, clodhopper shoes, a figured print dress almost completely covered by a big corduroy apron with four big pockets to hold the snips, the trowel and scratcher, the seeds and the knife she worked with.

Related Characters: Elisa Allen
Related Symbols: Scissors
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:
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Scissors Symbol Timeline in The Chrysanthemums

The timeline below shows where the symbol Scissors 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
...masculine, and she aggressively cuts down the old year’s chrysanthemum stalks with pair of powerful scissors. Her garden and her nearby home are both meticulously kept, and Elisa approaches her gardening... (full context)
Desolation and Fertility Theme Icon
Deception and Authenticity Theme Icon
...a haggard horse and donkey and driven by an unkept man, advertising “Pots, pans, knives, scissors, lawn mores, Fixed.” As the tinker, a big man with a “worn black suit,” stops... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Desolation and Fertility Theme Icon
...she does not require his services. The tinker makes one last effort to sharpen Elisa’s scissors, claiming they are his specialty, even though she makes clear that she could do this... (full context)
Gender, Power, and Ambition Theme Icon
Desolation and Fertility Theme Icon
...have a rival in the tinkering business, since she can easily mend pans and sharpen scissors too. As the tinker readies his wagon to depart, he tells her that it would... (full context)