Organizational and Gendered Imagery in John Steinbeck's “The Chrysanthemums”




John Steinbeck's use of imagery is a well-known and frequently mentioned subject in discussions of his stylistic art. Even a brief purview of recent criticism will indicate such common patterns as animal (for instance, as in The Pearl) and earth imagery. In “Flight,” for example, the reader finds animal imagery of two sorts. When Pepe is stripped of all civilized tools, his movements are increasingly described in verbs that suggest a primordial or serpentine creature. Pepe “crawled,”“wormed,”“wriggled,”“darted,”“writhed,” and “squirmed” in the final stages of his torment. The association becomes complete when Pepe tries to speak, and the only sound of which he is capable is a “thick hiss.” Along with the very frequent animal imagery, the reader often encounters earth imagery, usually in the form of a simile. When the reader first meets Jim Casy of The Grapes of Wrath, he is described thus: “It was a long head, bony, tight of skin, and set on a neck as stringy and muscular as a celery stalk.” Similarly, in the first paragraph of the novel, the earth itself, with its cracked, desecrated day and mournful wind becomes a living image of the people's spirits. Several other patterns of imagery surface in the works, of course, primary among them figures of light and shadow.