The Struggle for Equality and Respect in a Man’s World Essay

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John Steinbeck’s short story “The Chrysanthemums” portrays the struggle for equality and respect in a man’s world for the protagonist Elisa Allen. Steinbeck defines Elisa as a strong, proud woman who is limited from personal, social, and sexual fulfillment by the prevailing conception of a woman's role in a world dominated by men. From the beginning of the story, Steinbeck effortlessly describes boundaries Elisa faces through the detailed description of the geography and weather. Steinbeck notes the Salinas Valley as having “gray-flannel” fog and closed off from the sky and the rest of the world (Steinbeck). The expected gendered roles Steinbeck designates to Elisa such as the garden work and what he designates for the men in the story such as the Tinker, being able to travel when “the weather is nice”, show the boundaries against Elisa’s self-fulfillment. He goes into detail about Elisa’s image and persona, her femininity is being suppressed from her facial features, to her clothing, and even the way she handled the chrysanthemums was “over-powerful and over-eager”. By doing this, Steinbeck was able to have the reader examine Elisa’s boundaries that limit her space and self-expression, and present her vulnerability and strength of a woman in the 20th century being dominated by men.
In the beginning of this short story, the description of the farm that Henry and Elisa reside in is described as having “every side sat like a lid on the mountains and made the great
valley a closed pot” and the “yellow stubble fields seemed to be bathed in pale cold sunshine, but there is no sunshine in the valley” (Steinbeck), this depicts the atmosphere as being sad and closed off from the world, which hints Elisa’s isolation from society. Ste...

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...between her garden and the real world, the specified roles for each gender, and her own relationship with herself, Steinbeck is able to effortlessly illustrate the vulnerability and strength Elisa has, and is able to show the limitations a woman has living in the 20th century.

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Works Cited
Bily, Cynthia. "The Chrysanthemums." Short Stories for Students. Detroit: Gale,
2002. Literature Resource Center. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.
Skredsvig, Kari Meyers. "Women's Space, Women's Place: Topoanalysis in Steinbeck's 'The
Chrysanthemums.'." Revista de Filología y Lingüística de la Universidad de Costa Rica 26.1 (Jan.-June 2000): 59-67. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed. Jelena O. Krstovic. Vol. 135. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Literature Resource Center. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.
Steinbeck, John. “The Chrysanthemums”. Print. 11 Mar. 2014.

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