Character Analysis of Elisa Allen in The Chrysanthemums by Steinbeck

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Many readers who analyze Steinbeck's short story, "The Chrysanthemums", feel Elisa's flowers represent her repressed sexuality, and her anger and resentment towards men. Some even push the symbolism of the flowers, and Elisa's masculine actions, to suggest she is unable to establish a true relationship between herself and another. Her masculine traits and her chrysanthemums are enough to fulfill her entirely. This essay will discuss an opposing viewpoint. Instead, it will argue that Elisa's chrysanthemums, and her masculine qualities are natural manifestations of a male dominated world. Pertinent examples from "The Chrysanthemums" will be given in an attempt to illustrate that Elisa's character qualities, and gardening skills, are the survival traits she's adopted in order to survive, and keep her femininity and vulnerability in a man's world.

The first evidence that supports this conclusion is the behavior which occurs between Elisa and her husband, Henry. There is a "deeply rooted dysfunction between Henry and Elisa, [which is] a lack of real communication" (Palmerino, 1). They are "successful" farmers, but it is Henry who tends the economic production. The opening sets up a character contrast which runs throughout the piece by showing Henry selling thirty head of beef, while Elisa grows "beautiful" chrysanthemums. The contrast is that of the differences between a masculine and a feminine perspective of each other. This shows a limiting of Elisa from a man's point-of-view. Henry tells Elisa that she has a way with growing things, but he feels she is only contributing in an aesthetic way. In other words, Elisa is made to feel that her contribution isn't as worthy as a man's even though the insult is hidden ...

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... real love, she may be able to find fulfillment in her flowers more than she ever has. They can be released into the male world and survive, beautiful and strong, though fragile, just as she has. The chrysanthemums are not Elisa's frustration, they are her hope in a world she sees without hope. Therefore, when the tinker simply drops the flowers on the side of the road, the symbolic weight of the chrysanthemums must be considered. Higdon states that "the crucial question remains whether or not Elisa has been destroyed" (Higdon, 668). The reader can see how the flowers represent mostly a positive symbol of growth and life. Elisa may not have anywhere to turn for real understanding, since men are not able to explore her inner-qualities, but it is better that she grows flowers than shutting off her own emotions and feelings and using others like the men around her.

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