The Chrysanthemums.

Essay by nguyenhienCollege, Undergraduate October 2005

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During the history of mankind, women have been often regarded as inferior to men. Consequently, many women have audaciously strived to liberate themselves from this long-standing prejudice, and highlighted the female ideal of independence. John Steinbeck's short story, "The Chrysanthemums" reflects the struggles of a stereotyped woman of the time, Elisa Allen to find her own identity in the oppressive world of men.

First, Elisa is isolated and constrained in a masculine world. The description of the Salinas Valley has close relation with the lonely thirty-five-year-old woman's life. Despite its beauty, this place looks like a prison in which one can be trapped: "The high grey-flannel fog of winter ...sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot" with "pale cold sunshine." The valley can be considered a metaphor for Elisa's existence. Feeling cut off from "the rest of the world," she seems to know how the remaining part of her life is going to be, and she is not happy being so limited in choices.

Elisa lives in a male-dominated world with many abilities hidden under her "man's black hat," "clodhopper shoes," and "a big corduroy apron" she wears to garden. When her husband says she should "work out in the orchard and raise some apple that big, "she confirms immediately, "I've a gift with things." Moreover, the fact that Elisa is childless suggests that she needs more fulfillments in her life. She wishes to take care of someone, and since she has no one other than Henry, who does not seem much of help for her, she transfers these maternal instincts to her flowers. The chrysanthemums Elisa grows every year are the key symbol of her secret: they are an integral part of her. The success of her chrysanthemums is...