Alice Munro’s Boys and Girls and John Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums

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The difference between men and women is a very controversial issue, while there are obviously physical differences; the problem is how the genders are treated. It is stereotypically thought that the men do the labor work and make all the money, while the women stay in the house, cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children. While this stereotype does not exist as much in the 21st century, it was very prevalent in the 1900s. By using many different literary tools such as character development, symbolism, and setting, Alice Munro’s Boys and Girls and John Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums challenge this controversial topic of the treatment of women versus men in the 1900s.

Munro uses a fox farm for the setting of Boys and Girls to bring out many of the social issues between genders. While her father worked outside doing all the labor work, her mother stayed inside cooking and cleaning, “it was an odd thing to see my mother down at the barn” (Munro 12). The girl was very resentful towards her mother, mostly because she did not agree with the stereotypical life that her mother led. Causing the girl to spend more time helping her father around the farm. The girl would help feed the foxes, “cut the long grass, and the lamb’s quarter and flowering money-musk” (Munro 10). Although when she turned eleven, things started to change causing the girl to not only observe gender differences between her mother and father but to experience it between her and her brother Laird when working around the farm. While Laird became more predominant with helping on the farm, the girl became less valuable to her father and was forced to help her mother around the house.

In The Chrysanthemums the story also takes place in a farm-like setting in the 19...

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...hich was the symbol of her prettiness” (Steinbeck 94). Although when Elisa and Henry are on their way to go to the town, Elisa sees the chrysanthemums that the tinkerer had thrown out. At this moment, Elisa suddenly realizes that she will never be anything more than what she was before, a woman that is worthless to society.

While there is a considerable age difference between the girl in Boys and Girls and Elisa in The Chrysanthemums, they both go through similar experiences of being held back from their hopes and dreams because of the gender. Rather than doing what they want, they do what is expected of them. Munro and Steinbeck do a good job of conveying this message by using setting, symbolism and character development as key elements. Leaving the girl and Elisa with a future of unhappiness and disappointment and hopes “cut […] up in fifty pieces” (Munro 53)

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