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Betrayal in "The Chrysanthemums" Essays

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Betrayal in "The Chrysanthemums"

In John Steinbeck's short story," The Chrysanthemums," there is a strong underlining of betrayal. We can see betrayal in three forms throughout the story. First we see Elisa being betrayed by the salesman who plays on her emotions by giving her a sales pitch only to get some work out of her. Then, in result to confiding in the salesman Elisa betrays her husband by opening herself up, and confiding to a complete stranger things which she couldn't reveal to her own husband. Finally, we see Elisa betraying herself by not allowing herself to fully express her true emotions, and by being too afraid to step out of societies norms for woman during this time.

Elisa Allen is a thirty-five-year-old woman who lives on a ranch in the Salinas Valley with her husband Henry. She is "lean and strong," and wears shapeless, functional clothes (Steinbeck 203). The couple has no children, no pets, no near neighbors, and Henry is busy doing chores on the ranch throughout the day. Elisa fills her hours by vigorously cleaning the ''hard-swept looking little house, with hard-polished windows,'' and by tending her flower garden (204). She has ''a gift'' for growing things, especially her chrysanthemums, and she is proud of it (204).

One day, when her husband Henry goes to work a traveling salesman stops by the house looking for some new work. There is a sense of slight flirtation at first, but that's just because Elisa is so excited to have conversation with someone else other than her husband. However, once he tries to reveal his sales pitch Elisa becomes irritated and short with the man. It wasn't until the salesman made mention of her chrysanthemum's that, " the irritation and resistance melted from Elisa...


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... [she] read how they break noses, and blood runs down their chests. . . . How the fighting gloves get heavy and soggy with blood." (210) She proceeds to ask Henry if, ." . . any women ever go to the fights?"(210) By saying these things to Henry, in a subtle way, she's trying to reveal how she truly feels. Henry is surprised, yet still open to her questions, telling her that some women do go, and he asks Elisa if she would like to go to the fight. At that moment she betrays herself when she replies, " oh, no. No. I don't want to go. I'm sure I don't." (210) She once again suppresses her feelings not allowing Henry to see that other side of her, and by doing so she also keeps the reality of how she truly feels, in a way, hidden from herself. She clearly isn't ready to step outside the "box" of what society deems normal even if it is at the expense of her own happiness.


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