Elisa’s Unhappiness in The Chrysanthemums by John Steinbeck
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1450 words (4.1 double-spaced pages)
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John Steinbeck’s short story “The Chrysanthemums” centers on Eliza and her relationship with her husband Henry. Critic Gregory Palmerino brings light to their relationship issues. He argues: “everywhere there is conflict in ‘The Chrysanthemums,’ but nowhere is there a fight. This absence of friction prevents Henry and Elisa’s relationship from progressing, whether it be as lovers, partners or parents” (Palmerino 1). What Palmerino does not focus on is where these deep-rooted communications stem from. Because the ideology of patriarchy is so ingrained in both Elisa and her husband, Elisa feels she cannot communicate with her husband or even with herself. In this text, the patriarchal ideology is reinforced by the way the characters are presented and their interactions with one another.
When the story begins, Steinbeck addresses the weather and we see that a thick fog was covering the land: “It was a time of quiet and of waiting […] the farmers were mildly hopeful of a good rain before long; but fog and rain do not go together” (Steinbeck 438). It is important to note that the weather is introduced before our two main characters are, foreshadowing what kind of relationship they have. Palmerino sees the fog and rain as symbols of Elisa and Henry; of the female and male: “The natural elements of the foothills and ranch seem as unwilling to confront each other as the characters that inhabit its environs” (Palmerino 1). To extend this symbol into feminism, the fog symbolizes the patriarchal male; it is thick, grey and consumes the surface of the land just as the male consumes the female. The rain is Elisa; it is passive and does not come to confront fog just as the patriarchal female who submits to the male cannot confront him.
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...scord and, ultimately, any possibility for progression” (Palmerino 2).
Elisa is clearly unhappy with her life but will not confront this unhappiness. She hides her emotions from her husband. Just like the rain that never comes to confront the fog, Elisa will never be able to change her position in life; she will always submit to her husband and be caged in a marriage with a man who shows very little interest in her as a woman. Their marriage will never progress and both individuals remain unhappy. Patriarchal thought is reinforced and Elisa will never have the life she wants.
Palmerino, Gregory J. "Steinbeck's 'The Chrysanthemums'." Explicator 62.3 (2004): 164-167. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Claire Carney Library.
Steinbeck, John. "The Chrysanthemums." The Seagull Reader Stories. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2008. 437-448.
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