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John Steinbeck’s Short Story, The Chrysanthemums Essay

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Chrysanthemums

She was wearing “a man’s black hat…clod-hopper shoes, heavy leather gloves” and “a big corduroy apron” doing her best to cover up her femininity. In John Steinbeck’s short story, “The Chrysanthemums”, we are introduced to Elisa Allen. Elisa is living during a period after the Great Depression when women’s rights issues were becoming a topic of public concern. Steinbeck uses the character Elisa Allen to portray the women’s struggle for equality. She is a woman deprived of social, personal and sexual fulfillment in a male-dominated world. Elisa struggles to find satisfaction in her womanhood and a desire to escape from her isolated world.

“She was thirty-five. Her face was eager and mature and handsome…her figure looked blocked and heavy…” Elisa seems to be very masculine in appearance, and envious of the male authority. She has a very strong character and wishes to be independent and free herself. She struggles with the idea of women being inferior to men and feels that she must live up to what society believes a woman should be, passive. Elisa is unhappy and bored with the traditional roles she must play being a woman and frequently tries to behave as a man would. In several points in the story, she seems to take on a masculine role. For instance, when the man looking for work came by the house, she took authority and told him sternly “I tell you I have nothing like that for you to do”, a typical male response. She shows her strong qualities as she refuses him work making her feel like she has authority over him. Elisa tries so hard to be equal to her husband; she works so hard in her garden as he works on the farm. He compliments her garden, “you’ve got a strong new crop coming”, makin...


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...es from having masculine characteristics to positive female ones and finally regresses to a low point of weakness and inadequacy. All she ever wanted was to be appreciated and noticed by men at an equal level, however, it never happened. Many women suffered, like Elisa, during this point in history. Steinbeck portrays the women of the past through Elisa’s isolated life in which she can not change. Inside she feels that she is a strong, dominant, female, but she never gets the opportunity to have her accomplishments noticed. After many failed attempts to bring herself to the same level as the men in her life, she sadly realizes that she will never be able to live up to her expectations she has for herself. Life was difficult for women during the 1930’s, however, without their fight for equality, women today wouldn’t have the great freedom and equality they possess.


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