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The Chrysanthemums
The Chrysanthemums
by John Steinbeck
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The Chrysanthemums Theme of Transformation

Transformations in "The Chrysanthemums" are small, subtle, at times barely even noticeable. This is not a caterpillar-to-butterfly situation. But if we pay attention, we see that Elisa goes through a number of these small changes throughout the course of this rather short story: shifts in tone, changes in mood, transformations in appearance. She's a hard lady to peg. Each of these changes helps illustrate a different layer to Elisa's complex inner life. Each tiny transformation peels back another layer of the Elisa onion, and we hungry readers are glad for it.

Questions About Transformation

  1. Do you think Elisa undergoes a major transformation, or only minor ones (or none at all)? Is she a different person at the end of the story than at the beginning? Do any other characters undergo transformations, or are they only meant to facilitate Elisa's?
  2. Take a look at the scene in which Elisa is getting ready for her night out. Why is she physically transforming herself so drastically? What might the narrator mean when he says the dress was "a symbol of her prettiness"?
  3. Sometimes we can trace Elisa's change in tone or facial expression to its cause. But where in the story is the cause less clear, and what effect does that have on our reading? For example, why does she does she lose her "rigidity" (104) when Henry tells her she looks happy and strong?
  4. Elisa is, let's face it, a bit moody. Should we take this as simply a character trait? Or are her moods shifted by bigger forces?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Elisa doesn't change at all. She begins the story an isolated, lonely woman, and ends it just the same.

Elisa's major transformation is from a woman who is unaware of her own lack of fulfillment, to one who is painfully conscious of what her life is missing. Her transformation is really an awakening.

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