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John Steinbeck's "Chrysanthemums"

Most critics who analyze John Steinbeck's short story, Chrysanthemums, from The Long Valley (1938) collection, feel Elisa's flowers represent her repressed sexuality, her anger and resentment towards men, and her reaction to life's disappointments. Some critics even push the symbolism of the flowers, and Elisa's "manly" actions, to suggest she is incapable of fulfilling a true relationship between herself and another, i.e., her "manly" traits, and her chrysanthemums are enough to fulfill her entirely. This paper will discuss an opposing viewpoint to this usual body of criticism and analysis. Instead, it will argue that Elisa's chrysanthemums, and her "manly" qualities, have been manifested, in fact, are natural manifestations, of a male dominated world. Pertinent examples from 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. They are "successful" farmers, but it is Henry who tends the economic production. The opening sets up a great character contrast which runs throughout the piece - that of the differences between a man's and a woman's perspective of each other - by showing Henry selling thirty head of beef, while Elisa grows "beautiful" chrysanthemums. Here we see 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 in Henry's compliment to her. However, since the compliment is coming from a man who doesn't have a liberal attitude towards women, i.e., he is the breadwinner, the praise must nec...

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John Steinbeck's "Chrysanthemums". (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 13:35, May 19, 2019, from