Different Yet So Alike

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Different, Yet so Alike Bobbie Ann Mason's "Shiloh" and John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums" explore the emotional demands women of the past century have experienced. This is partially due to changes in the style of living and partially because of the woman's view of herself. Women experience many needs and desires that they expect their husbands to fulfill: the need for strong emotional support, the desire for the future roles to change for the better as their character becomes more developed, the ways they react to their husbands' attempts to fulfill their need for happiness, and how the actions of others shape their feelings for themselves and others. Many women let their emotions entangle their perception, but these two women seem to show how life can be lived to the fullest with someone around to remind people that life sometimes isn't perfect.

Norma Jean in "Shiloh" is part of the new working class of truck driver, retail clerks, and Tupperware sales representatives.

She is content with life while her husband is away as a truck driver because of society's new acceptance of working women. Since he is providing a support in his absence, she becomes emotionally lost when he returns home. Elisa in "The Chrysanthemums" is lost at home by herself. The demands farm life places on her husband leave her feeling especially alone and vulnerable. Each woman struggles with her own situation, eventually faltering. Norma Jean's desire for a divorce and Elisa's encounter with the peddler symbolize the women's emotional need for attention, which their husbands are unable to fulfill.

Although Norma Jean and Elisa experience different feelings, they are both fighting against the confines of marriage. Norma Jean is trying to regain a personal freedom she has had for so many years of her marriage. Thing s seemed to be in a set way, then Leroy's leg is hurt, and he is home, underfoot and not helping with any of the chores. Norma Jean feels as though her every move is being watched and that she is no longer trusted to be herself. Elisa is from a different time period when women were expected to keep house. On one hand, she is happy; she puts her whole heart in the home's appearance. On the other hand, Elisa seems as though she would give anything to be able to be out in the field with her husband, even if she did have to do the "man's work." As her character develops, Elisa feels as though she is being neglected even though she knows that this is not the case.

Marriage is a contract that both parties enter into with the general understanding that they will do everything in their power to make their partner happy with himself or herself or with the world. Norma Jean and Elisa both have chosen husbands that would do anything to ensure their happiness; the variance is in the women's reaction to the attempt. In "Shiloh" Leroy is determined that Norma Jean will be happy if he could build her a log home in one of the new sub-divisions. He repeatedly says, "I am going to build you this house, I am going to make you a real home." This is his way of trying to fill the emptiness that both are experiencing with so much time together but so little to talk about. His action drives Norma Jean farther and farther away from him, and, in the end, is part of the reason he loses her. Elisa's husband in "The Chrysanthemums" has more success when he tries to solve the internal conflicts she is dealing with. His suggestion to visit Salinas for a movie and something to eat is met with joy. Elisa's reply, "Good, oh, yes, that will be good," says more than the words convey. She eagerly gets ready when the time is near; but before that, she sets herself up for an encounter with a peddler who takes interest in something that is important to her, her chrysanthemums.

Many times as a woman, one wants to accept her reality as the way it was meant to be, but sometimes outside circumstances cause heartache and venerability to arise. Norma Jean and Leroy's trip to Shiloh is just the little "push" she needs to see that she could be much happier without Leroy, as she was for many years with him on the road. I believe that her mother knew that Norma Jean needed to see more of the world in order to be happy; she just did not know that the happiness would be without Leroy. Elisa needed the peddler so she could become more aware of how lucky she really was. It seems as though she knew her husband was a terrific man all along, but the peddler's heartlessness showed her how much she really needed her husband's compassion.

In stories like these we see how two people so different can seem so much alike. Norma Jean and Elisa show us that, perhaps, two women, so different in personality and from two very different time periods and geographical backgrounds, are almost the same person"”t hat every single person has someone else with the same feelings, although their story is different.