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Exploring John Steinbeck's Short Story, The Chrysanthemums: Is the Grass Really Greener on the Other Side?

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John Steinbeck used his short story, The Chrysanthemums, as a visual illustration to answer the adage, “Is the grass “really” greener on the other side?“ During The Great Depression, the American dream had become a nightmare. What was once the land of opportunity was now the land of desperation. What was once the land of hope and optimism had become the land of despair. The American people were questioning all the maxims on which they had based their lives - democracy, capitalism, individualism. By the beginning of the next decade the United States had gone from a laissez-faire economy that oversaw its own conduct to an economy regulated by the federal government.
John Steinbeck, who witnessed all these drastic and dramatic changes, used this short story to illustrate what he felt was the questing mind-set of American men and women. He not only made people consider the rhetorical question, “Is the grass really any greener on the other side?“, but he sought to answer it. The reader senses that this woman, Elisa Allen, is a woman who is very unhappy with her life. She feels boxed in, limited, and unfulfilled. The only satisfaction, the only pride, and the only pleasure Elisa gets out of life is being in her garden with her "family" of chrysanthemums. She has fenced in the garden, to insure that it remains off limits to everyone, including her husband, the dogs, the cattle, and visitors. Elisa feels like a prisoner in a prison of her own making. While Henry Allen, her husband, embraces farm life in
their peaceful valley, Elisa Allen feels like a drudge, who is isolated, out of the loop, and wasting away from the tedium, hard work, and day to day monotony on the farm, away from the real and exciting world and people outside...


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.... It's like that. Hot and sharp and lovely." Elisa saw the man’s free-bird lifestyle and she wanted to live like that if only for a moment. Elisa received what she wanted: A moment in time to have other, to be other, by having sex with the loner, the rebel, the man from the wagon. The panhandler got what he wanted: money and sex.
Afterwards, the reader senses Elisa’s shame and her guilt. She was very distraught over the fact that she had given herself to another man. After the man in the wagon left, she ran inside and immediately took a bath, scrubbing herself raw in a vain hope of erasing all evidence of her front of them. Elisa sees that the man has thrown her chrysanthemums out of the wagon, but kept the red pot she had put them in. He took advantage of her and played her for a fool. Once again he got what he wanted and threw away what he did not need.


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