Trapped in Her Garden

Trapped in Her Garden

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Throughout history, women have often been portrayed as inferior to men or considered the "weaker sex." As a result of these social assumptions, women have been fighting to dissociate themselves from this stereotype and gain their independence. John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums" is a classic illustration of the frustration felt by a woman before she was observed as being more than just her sex.

Elisa Allen, the main character, lives on a ranch in the Salinas Valley in California with her husband, Henry. Elisa's main focus is on her garden, especially on her beloved chrysanthemums. She tends to her chrysanthemums with great care, protecting them from bugs and disease and making sure they are started just right. They are her pride and joy, a symbol of her hard work and dedication.

Elisa's garden and chrysanthemums hold a lot more symbolism then just the time and effort she puts into them. The garden is representative of the boundaries she lives within, her isolation from the outside world, and her ability to express herself freely. The chrysanthemums represent her inner strength, the one way she can express herself in the world she lives in.

The relationship that Elisa has with her husband is described through dialog. He teases her about taking her to a fight, an event that is supposed to only appeal to men. He comments on her looks and she questions his meaning, instantly he is back peddling to try to avoid an emotional breakdown. The reader recognizes Elisa's need to be viewed as an equal by her husband, instead of him sheltering her like a stereotypical "emotional" woman.

The reader is presented with Elisa's other frustrations when she interacts with a traveling salesman. From the start Elisa acts very hard towards the man, through her facial expressions, actions, and dialog. Over and over again the man tries to persuade Elisa to give him some work, she only accepts his gesture after he shows interest in her chrysanthemums. The man cons her into paying him to do repairs she is capable of doing herself by telling her a story of another woman who would be overjoyed to have chrysanthemums of her own. Elisa picks a bunch of her flower starts and plants them in a brand new pot for the traveling repairman to give to his other client. After the man leaves, Elisa seems to be satisfied with her treatment of him.

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It is not until she sees her flowers thrown on the side of the road that disappointment and anger come over her. Disappointment in her self for giving in to a man just because of his acknowledgment of her flowers; anger because of the way she was taken advantage of. She feels that if she was seen as an equal to men and not seen as being just a weak woman, this would have never happened. The traveling salesman would have taken her first no as her final answer and he would not have conned her out of a brand new pot and a bunch of her flowers.

The reader sees Elisa as a woman battling against a stereotype placed on her generations before she was ever conceived. We recognize her frustration with her marriage, her sense of isolation from the outside world, and her desire to express herself as a strong, proud woman. Elisa lives in a society thirty years behind the beginning of feminism. If only she was able to escape the boundaries of her garden, the freedom she could have known.

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