The Chrysanthemums

Essay by jonesantCollege, UndergraduateA, November 2004

download word file, 3 pages 3.0

A short story set in central California's Salinas Valley, in a December during the Great Depression, "The Chrysanthemums" by John Steinbeck expresses through subtext a thirty-five year old woman's struggle with her identity. The story opens in the quiet setting of a farm in the Salinas River Valley and "Elisa Allen working in her flower garden, ...her figure ... blocked and heavy in her gardening costume, a man's black hat pulled down over her eyes, clod-hopper shoes, a figured print dress covered by a big corduroy apron with four big pockets to hold the snips...." This description expresses her masculinity and raises questions that will be developed throughout the story: Will she ever be able to express her deep feelings as a woman? Will she ever really be accepted in a man's world? Will she ever have the freedom to be herself? If we follow the details of Elisa's evolving thoughts and the actions around her during this pivotal day of her mid-life crisis, we will begin to see the answers to these questions.

Although Elisa is seen as powerful, strong and capable, she is constantly victimized by her self due to her own gender, inequality, and biases. The narrator begins to express Elisa's feminine feelings in Elisa's descriptions. Early in the story her femininity is displayed in the description of the Allen's home, being spotless from roof to floor. "It was a hard-swept-looking little house, with hard-polished windows, and a clean mud-mat on the front steps." Through this description her home displays her feminine quality of cleanliness. "She tore off the battered hat and shook out her pretty dark hair." This description of Elisa begins to change the masculine perception of her, in the beginning of the story, and helps to bring her more to a feminine state...