While this piece can be analyzed from many different perspectives, the setting in “The Chrysanthemums” is one that is quite important in understanding the overall theme of the story. In the first line, the reader finds out that it takes place in Salinas Valley, which is John Steinbeck’s place of birth. The reader can also infer that Elisa and her husband live on a farm or ranch, just as the author had during his early years.
This is significant it that the audience knows that Steinbeck is familiar with this area, which would not only make the story more believable, but it would also help the audience connect better with the characters. It is also of note that the short story was first published in 1937, which was during a time when the country was just recovering from the Great Depression and women’s rights were at the height of national attention. It is plausible that Steinbeck wanted to portray a woman full of life and energy, capable of achieving anything, but by purposely placing her in a setting where she was essentially “stuck” and isolated, he was able to show the struggle that many women still endured.
Steinbeck paints a picture of the small and isolated world within which Elisa lives, describing the Salinas Valley as being closed off from the rest of the world by the “high grey-flannel fog of winter” and that “on every side it sat like the lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot.” While her husband enjoys conversations with friends, she is confined to her house and garden. The reader gets a sense of her eagerness to live free when she envies the stranger’s life and says, “I wish women could do such things.”