Women and Society during the early 20th Century
Women always had to deal with all kinds of situations throughout history. Sex was becoming to be a woman’s way of expressing herself and in a way have control over certain situation Edith Wharton’s "Summer" and John Steinbeck’ s "The Chrysanthemums" show two characters (both of them women) struggling between society‘s rules and laws and their own believes and desires. Both stories were written in the beginning of the 20th century and both authors made it very clear that the women’s thoughts were unacceptable. While Charity Loyal in "Summer" had the ability to satisfy herself sexually with a city boy and go as far as she could be her desires. Elisa Allen in "Chrysanthemums" fantasized about the idea of being with another man, but did not take her thoughts into action. Both, however, seem to look in nature the answer for the constant struggle to achieve freedom. This theme, like sex, is renowned all throughout the stories.
Wharton decides to start the story with a description of the town where Charity Royall lives. She says, "A little wind moved among the round white clouds on the shoulder of the hills, driving their shadows across the fields and down the grassy road that takes the name of the street when it passes through North Dormer. The place lies high and in the open, and lacks the lavish shade of the more protected New England Villages" (91). North Dormer seems to be a very peaceful place. The description gives a tone of calmness and happiness. This is very important for Charity, since she has an especial connection to nature all through out the story. When she is looking to free herself from North Dormer,
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she looks for it in nature. After a long day working in the library (where Charity is usually by herself), Wharton shows how happy Charity becomes once she is able to leave and be outside with nature. She says, "She loved the roughness of the dry mountain grass under her palms, the smell of the thyme into which she crushed her face, the fingering of the wind in her hair and through her cotton blouse, and the creak of the larches as he swayed to it" (98). Charity lies in the grass almost hugging it. She shows emotions toward the grass (nature) that make it seem almost like a person. Moments like this one, made her feel free...
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...be plenty.’ Alcohol will ease the pain, perhaps." She is upset, there was obviously
These two women deal with the oppression imposed by society during the turn of the century. But their desires and emotions are stronger than what people thought at the time. For Charity, her love for nature allowed her to feel free. Eventually she loses all of that when she becomes pregnant and marries Mr. Royall. For Elisa, the struggle of wanted
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to be like man did not give her a sense of freedom, only when she is working in her garden. She, like Charity, never completely achieved her freedom by the end of the story.
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Bily, Cynthia. “Critical essay on Summer.” Literature Resource Center. 2005. 25 April 2005 .
Fahy, Thomas. “Worn, Damaged Bodies in Literature and Photography of the Great Depression.” Wilson Web. Mar. 2003. 25 April 2005 .
Palmerino, Gregory J. “Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums.” Wilson Web. 2004. 25 April 2005.
“Sex.” 2004. 25 April. 2005 .
Steinbeck, John. “The Chrysanthemums.” The Health Anthology of American Literature. 4th ed. Vol 1. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002. 1874-1881.
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