Feminist Perspective of John Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums
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A Feminist Perspective of John Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums
John Steinbeck, in his short story "The Chrysanthemums" depicts the trials of a woman attempting to gain power in a man's world. Elisa Allen tries to define the boundaries of her role as a woman in such a closed society. While her environment is portrayed as a tool for social repression, it is through nature in her garden where Elisa gains and shows off her power. As the story progresses, Elisa has trouble extending this power outside of the fence that surrounds her garden. In the end, Elisa learns but does not readily accept, that she possesses a feminine power weak for the time, not the masculine one she had tried so hard to achieve through its imitation.
The work begins with a look at the story's setting. "The Chrysanthemums" was written in 1938, and the story takes place roughly around the same time. It is winter in Salinas Valley, California. The most prominent feature is the "gray-flannel fog" which hid the valley "from the rest of the world" (396). The mountains and valleys and sky and fog encapsulate everything inside as a "closed pot" (396). Inside this shut-off habitat the environment is trying to change. Just as the farmers are waiting for an unlikely rain, Elisa and all women are hopeful for a change in their enclosed lives. Steinbeck’s foreshadows, "It was a time of quiet and waiting" (396).
The action of the story opens with Elisa Allen working in her garden. She is surrounded by a wire fence, which physically is there to protect her flowers from the farm animals. This barrier symbolizes her life; she is fenced in from the real world, from a man's world. It is a smaller, on-earth version of the environment in which they live. This man's...
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...mean she couldn't still be strong. The peddler's business of selling his service of fixing pots closes women out of his world just as natural fog closes of the valley. Although we hope her tears can be compared to the pruning she does to her precious chrysanthemums, clipping them backed for future and stronger growth, Steinbeck leaves the reader questioning the future for women. Elisa's tears will not rid the valley of the fog, for as Steinbeck tells us in the beginning, "fog and rain do not go together" (396). While Elisa will continue to dominate her immediate surrounding inside the fence using her power from nature, but she will not gain power outside of it, in a man's world.
Steinbeck, John. "The Chrysanthemums." Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 6th ed. New York: Harper Collins, 1995.