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Analysis Of The Chrysanthemums English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1736 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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At the turn of the twentieth century women were on the uprising with equality; a feministic revolution was occurring. There were still barriers and obstacles that women had to overcome, however more options were slowly beginning to come their way. In the essay by John Steinbeck called The Chrysanthemums, he was able to give a glimpse to what it was like being a woman and living in a male dominated world. The main character Elisa is an interesting, intelligent, and passionate woman who lives an unsatisfying, and under stimulated life. Feminism was intergraded into The Chrysanthemums by allowing readers to see from Elisa’s point of view about society’s inability to treat women as equals.

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Elisa was a typical housewife that lived her life according to society’s views of what gender roles a woman should represent. Elisa was like many other women from this time, where she devoted all of her energy to her daily routines, which consisted of taking care of the house, her husband, cooking, and cleaning. She did not have any kids or animals to take care of. The narrator described Elisa as, “Her face was lean and strong and her eyes were as clear as water. 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, para 5). Then after Elisa’s husband Henry walked away she smirked, “I’ll have plenty of time transplant some of these sets, I guess”, (Steinbeck, para 24). This is a representation of how Elisa spent most of her time. Elisa likes to brag about her green thumb and does enjoy the fruits of her beautiful blossoming flowers. Although, Elisa has a connection to nature this is not necessarily volunteered; her connection seems forced. Most likely because of the gender roles of society and being a woman she unconisisly feels that gardening is


a feminine thing to do, which is why she continues to pursue gardening. Another example of how society’s gender roles prohibit women from their potential is from the story The Yellow Wallpaper. Else is a stay at home wife set in the late nineteenth century who starts to become hysterical because of gender restraints and having to stay confined to her home. Her Husband John diagnoses her with hysteria and wants her to stay in bed until she gets well. Else then states, “Personally, I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work. with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do?”, (Gilman, para 14). Else like Elisa both feel that work and getting out of the house are things that both genders should partake in, however both of them are weighed down by the tyranny of man and forced to live an mundane and simplistic life.

The potential for Elisa to live a fulfilling and exciting life is inhibited by social restraints and causing her to live in social isolation. Elisa relationship with her husband is more functional and passive; like a relationship between siblings. A general contractor stopped at Elisa’s house when she was outside gardening. The contractor is an all around can fix anything type of man who stopped by looking for work. Elisa was at first annoyed by the contractor until he started taking an interest in her chrysanthemums. The narrator describe what he look liked, “His worn black suit was wrinkled and spotted with grease… His eyes were dark, and they were full of the brooding that gets in the eyes of teamsters and of sailors. The calloused hands he rested on the wire fence were cracked, and every crack was a black line’, (Steinbeck, para 32). The contractor was not a handsome man or even charming. The narrator described Elisa’s conversation with the contractor stating, “She was kneeling on the ground looking up at him. Her breast swelled passionately. The man’s eyes narrowed. He looked away self-consciously. “Maybe I know,” he said. “Sometimes in the night in the wagon there–“Elisa’s voice grew husky. She broke in on him.


“I’ve never lived as you do, but I know what you mean. When the night is dark–why, the stars are sharp-pointed, and there’s quiet. Why, you rise up and up! Every pointed star gets driven into your body. It’s like that. Hot and sharp and–lovely.”… Then her hand dropped to the ground. She crouched low like a fawning dog”, (Steinbeck, para 72-76). Elisa’s is frustrated with life that she looks to the contractor for simulating conversation and even sex; both of these elements seem to be lacking from Elisa’s life. Another instance where Elisa’s lack of social opportunities; “”I ought to take you in to dinner oftener. It would be good for both of us. We get so heavy out on the ranch.”… “Henry,” she asked, “could we have wine at dinner?”… “Do any women ever go to the fights?” she asked. “Oh, sure, some. What’s the matter, Elisa? Do you want to go? I don’t think you’d like it, but I’ll take you if you really want to go.””, (Steinbeck, para 113-117). The rare occurrence for Elisa to get out and enjoy life as left her begging to do so and even is so desperate of the trap of being a women she starts to seek interest in bloody fights. However, none of this will ever truly satisfy Elisa and it is doubtful she will ever find fulfillment. Similar to Elisa’s social isolation Judith from the essay A Room of One’s Own runs into like social blockades. Woolf states, “The whole of the mind must lie wide open if we are to get the sense that the writer is communicating his experience with perfect fullness. There must be freedom and there must be peace”, (p. 904). This quote states that a person should total control of themselves and then they will find freedom. Judith who was subject to her gender roles and never fulfilled her desire to write felt like she was stuck. Elisa and Judith both were a victim of social and gender isolation. Both of them were capable of much more, but because of their gender they had no choice but to keep their unique trades dormant.

Gender played a major factor in determining who receives an education. Some women were fortunate to receive formal schooling. Although most women, because of their gender and


society’s inability to treat women as equals; felt woman should continue their normal domestic duties. The Chrysanthemums had an allegorical meaning that pointed out that a society has no place for intelligent women. Elisa is smart and ambitious, but because of her gender these characteristics practically went use less. When the contractor asked for work from Elisa she knew how to do everything that he capable of. Elisa allowed the contractor to fix some pans, because Elisa enjoyed his company. When Elisa exchanged money she commented, “You might be surprised to have a rival some time. I can sharpen scissors, too. And I can beat the dents out of little pots. I could show you what a woman might do”, (Steinbeck, para 88). However, the contractor blew her off stating, “It would be a lonely life for a woman, ma’am, and a scarey life, too, with animals creeping under the wagon all night”, (Steinbeck, para 89). Elisa seems smarter and according to Elisa he does not match her skills to fix items. The contractor disregards her statement because he is accustom to ignore the potential that women have; just like the rest of society. Wallstonecraft stated, “How grossly do they insult us who thus advise us only to render ourselves gentle, domestic brutes!”, (p. 497). Wallstonecraft and Elisa both agree that women are not born with the innate traits of a domesticated house wife. There are much more to women then what society has labled them as. Elisa felt that she was constantly pushed aside when it came to being more involved in business and learning; for instance, her husband Henry. When Henry noticed how good of a gardener Elisa was he stated, “”You’ve got a gift with things,” Henry observed. “Some of those yellow chrysanthemums you had this year were ten inches across. I wish you’d work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big.” Her eyes sharpened. “Maybe I could do it, too. I’ve a gift with things, all right…”Well, it sure works with flowers,” he said”, (Steinbeck, para 12-14). Nevertheless, Henry was quick to change to subject and talk about his new success on the farm. Beauvoir made a statement that correlated great with this


subject, “And likewise it is quite true that woman-like man-is a being rooted in nature… but in her as in him the given traits are taken on through the fact of existence, she belongs also to the human realm. To assimilate her to nature is simply to act from prejudice” (p 1267). Men and women are both equal and both have equal capabilities to obtain an education. Men make up mysteries when they can not understand women and may feel threatened. That is why Henry, who represents the patriarchal society, does not involve her working on the farm or let Elisa go into society on her own.

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Elisa was subject to gender inequalities of her time. That is something to this day that still happens from time to time. The mysteries of women and the male dominated patriarchal society left minimal room for women to grow. The view the Steinbeck showed allowed readers see first hand the effect that inequality had on women with their duties, social isolation, and obtaining a higher education. The life of a woman during this era was often left unsatisfying and under stimulated. By allowing readers to see the allegorical meaning to this essay will hopefully open the eyes of people who view women unequally.



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