“Chrysanthemums” and “Flight” by John Steinbeck Summary

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John Ernst Steinbeck Jr was an American author born in Salinas, California on February 27, 1902. Growing up in a good middle-class family Steinbeck learned to appreciate his environment, not only Salinas but the Pacific Coast. His father, John Steinbeck Sr., was a county treasurer while his mother, Olive Steinbeck was a former teacher. Inspired by his mother, at the age of fifteen John decided to become a writer and spent most of his time writing stories and poems. In 1919, John enrolled in Stanford University to please his parents, but never graduated do to his circumstances.

After leaving Stanford John decided to focus more on his writing and tried the newspaper reporting and Contruction in New York City, but when his endeavors failed, he returned to California. Steinbeck married his first wife, Carol Hemming in 1930 and they later moved to Pasific Grove, where he wrote Tortilla Flat. This novel became his first popular work and it made a good impact in his career as a write. Although, what made john more successful was The Grapes of Wrath that was publish in 1939 that was based on Oklahoma farmers who were unable to earn a living from the land, moved to California where they became migratory workers.

John Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962. His last book was travels with charley, which was about John writing about his impressions during the three-month tour he had. John Steinbeck than later died of a heart disease on December 20, 1968 in New York City. The short story, “Flight” by John Steinbeck, tells the story of Pepe Torres, who longs to be a man. But Pete tend to act childish which is why his own mother tells him that he is lazy and foolish to believe that he will be a man and so the young boy leaves his home. In fact, on the first night of his journey, Pepe gets into an argument with a man and ends up killing him with a knife. Pepe Torres runs away to the mountains, but as he flees, he loses his horse, hat, coat, his gun and his water supply as well.

Which are all the things that a mature man would know to keep in order to survive. “He was changed. The fragile quality seemed to have gone from his chin. His mouth was less full than it had been, the lines of the lip were straighter, but in his eyes the greatest change had taken place. There was no laughter in them anymore, nor any bashfulness. They were sharp and bright and purposeful” (Steinbeck 4). This can demonstrate that Pepe is not yet a man. The story, like most of Steinbeck’s works, is set in the Salinas Valley of California, so the description of the mountains and wildlife come across as authentic. John Steinbeck uses many examples of symbolism, in the short story which is one way you can characterize John Steinbeck’s work.

The most repeatedly used symbol in Flight is the color black. In fact, many authors use the color black to represent death. In his short story, the author uses various examples of color symbolism. Some of the examples that are mentioned are the black handle on the long blade, Pepe’s black hair, the black jerky and his father’s black coat, which represents death. As a matter of fact, when Pepe puts on his father’s coat, he is literally covering himself with death. Another example will be the trail in which Pepe travels. Steinbeck describes as “It was a well-worn path, dark soft leaf-mold earth strewn with broken pieces of sandstone” (Steinbeck 7).

By traveling on this path, he is in fact taking the road of death. Furthermore, Pepe’s appearance also helps foreshadow the ending. Steinbeck describes him as having a black hat that covers his black thatched hair. Pepe is also described as being dark, lean and tall. As we can see, the authors use of black symbolism in the story tells us that the main character, Pepe, will not have such a happy ending. In addition, one of the most important themes to this short story is the focus on growth and development, in which Pepe Torres believes that he would finally become a man by doing a “man’s thing”. But what the main character, fails to understand is that doing what he thinks is fit for a man would end up getting him in a mess.

Therefore, Pepe is considered a boy that shouldn’t be doing things just because it has the abilities and the mental attitude of a man. John Steinbeck’s ‘The Chrysanthemums’ shows the true feelings of the Elisa Allen, who is a housewife. The main character, Elisa feels as if there’s no excitement in her life what so ever. She feels trapped because she’s label as a ‘wife’, ‘gardener’, and ‘housekeeper’ being that she spends most of her time working in the garden with the chrysanthemums and doing small favors for her husband. Despite Elisa being a typical housewife that lived her life according to society’s views of what gender roles a woman should represent, she did not feel happy. Even though, she is in fact a very useful gardener, she is forced to limit her skills to chrysanthemums; being that her husband does not allow her to participate in the farm’s actual harvest which frustrates Elisa.

“Her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume, a man’s black hat pulled low down over her eyes, clod-hopper 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”, (Steinbeck 1). This demonstrates how Elisa spends most of her time and how much she loves her garden, although, it is not something she does volunteered. In fact, it is because of the gender roles of society and being a woman, she feels that gardening is something she’s meant to do.

Overall, both stories focus on isolation and what society has a huge impact on people lives. John Steinbeck was able to give the readers a feel of what he basically grew up seeing in Salinas, California. As well, as all the experiences he had throughout the years. In fact, most of his stories connects to lives of troubled, lonely, vulnerable farm families. In the Chrysanthemums, Steinbeck talks about how society treats woman and in Flight, he shows the struggle of an immigrant family how faces many troubles and how the oldest son struggles to find himself in order to become a man.


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“Chrysanthemums” and “Flight” by John Steinbeck Summary. (2021, Aug 12). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/chrysanthemums-and-flight-by-john-steinbeck/



What do the chrysanthemums symbolize in the story?
The chrysanthemums are a symbol for Elisa's repressed femininity. She takes great pride in her chrysanthemums, and they are a symbol of her hope for a more fulfilling life.
What is Flight by John Steinbeck about?
The book Flight by John Steinbeck is about a man who is trying to escape from his life and start over. He ends up meeting a woman who helps him realize that he can't keep running from his problems.
What is the mood of the chrysanthemum?
The mood of the chrysanthemum is reflective and peaceful.
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