Symbols and Images in Short Stories

2 February 2017

Lucas Culliton Character Development Through The Use of Symbols and Images John Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums and James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues are two stories that contain many symbols and images and it is through these symbols and images that we learn about Elisa and Sonny and how they change over the course of the story. Both characters undergo significant changes that leave the reader question ing what they have read at some points.

Symbols and images employed in Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums and Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues reflects the transformations of Elisa and Sonny both emotionally and physically throughout the story and are present to enhance our understanding of both characters and the overall point the author is trying to make. The supporting arguments will demonstrate how symbols such as the chrysanthemums, the Salinas Valley, heroin and the cup of trembling reflect the transformations of Sonny and Elisa.The beginning of The Chrysanthemums has a rather sad and depressing opening few paragraphs and it begins with “The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world. On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot. ”(Steinbeck 1) This is the first description of the setting of the story and it is also the first symbol the reader comes across in the story.The Salinas Valley is used to show how Elisa is “trapped” in a fairly boring life of gardening . The story was written in a time when women were not considered equal to men and the way Steinbeck describes Elisa being “lean and strong” and “blocked and heavy” gives the reader the impression that Elisa has characteristics that are more common for men to have.

Symbols and Images in Short Stories Essay Example

After reading the opening page the reader has the impression that Elisa is capable of much more but is trapped in this life of gardening because she is a woman.As the story progresses and after Elisa has her encounter with the tinker, the reader begins to see a more emotional side of Elisa as Steinbeck writes about her being more women-like. Near the end of the story Steinbeck writes “She put on her newest underclothing and her nicest stockings and the dress which was the symbol of her prettiness. ” (Steinbeck 8) For the first time we see a very lady like side to Elisa and on her way to dinner with her husband the river road is described to show a “t hin band of sunshine. In contrast to the beginning when the valley was described as a “closed pot” the reader now begins to think there is a happier ending for Elisa as she transitions from a very bland life, trapped in the garden, to a happier life where she is dressed her best and is emotionally happier. We also see a change in her emotions at the end when she begins to cry. This demonstrates how she has changed both physically and emotionally after her encounter with the tinker.

In Sonny’s Blues the heroin Sonny uses is an example of how he is trapped in a life of darkness just like Elisa is trapped in her situation.Baldwin uses the narrator to describe Sonny’s life on heroin by writing: All they really knew were two darknesses, the darkness of their lives, which was now closing in on them, and the darkness of the movies, which had blinded them to that other darkness, and in which they now, vindictively, dreamed, at once more together than they were at any other time, and more alone. (Baldwin 1) This establishes a darkness for the majority of the story that is present until Sonny performs on stage at the end of the story. Sonny is stuck in a life of drugs and is in a very bad position.Throughout the story we see that the narrator is trying to help Sonny and free him from the life of darkness. When reading the story, the reader has the impression that the only way Sonny will transition from darkness to light is through music. Before Sonny plays on stage at the end of the story the narrator says “Here, I was in Sonny’s world.

Or, rather: his kingdom. Here, it was not even a question that his veins bore royal blood” (Baldwin 17) This is said by the narrator when Sonny is in the nightclub and he is about to perform.It gives the reader the impression that Sonny is right in his element and it serves as a sign of hope for Sonny that he is going to get over his addiction to heroin. In the end, Sonny did play well and because of his love for music he made the transition from darkness to a much happier state of mind. Sonny is released from a life of addiction and can begin a much happier and fulfilling life. Turning back to The Chrysanthemums, another very important symbol is the chrysanthemum flower. The Chrysanthemums are very closely related to Elisa and how she lives her life.

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