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Analysis on The Chrysanthemums, by John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck’s short story The Chrysanthemums proves that he had an understanding of women’s struggles in his day.

The main theme in the story is an understated but obvious critique of a society that has no place for intelligent women. Elisa is smart, attractive, energetic, and ambitious woman, but all these characteristics are wasted in the society she lives in. The two men in the story are not that interesting and talented as Elisa, but their lives are far more fulfilling. Henry is not as intelligent as Elisa, but he who manages the ranch, supports himself and his wife, making business deals. Elisa watches him from afar. All the information about the management of the ranch comes indirectly from him. Henry speaks in vague, not treating his wife as an equal partner. Elisa thinks also that the tinker is less intelligent than her. But it is tinker who has a chance to ride around the country, living an adventurous life that he thinks is unsuitable for women. Steinbeck uses the tinker and Henry to demonstrate the paternalism of patriarchal societies in general: they ignore women’s potential just as society does.

One of the main motifs in the story is represented by the clothing. Elisa’s clothing changes as her silent, masculine persona becomes more feminine after tinker visit her. Then we see Elisa wearing an androgynous gardening outfit with thick gloves, heavy shoes, a man’s hat, and an apron filled with phallic tools. The masculinity of Elisa’s clothing reflects her asexual existence. After speaking with the tinker, Elisa starts to feel stimulated intellectually and physically; this change is represented when she removes her gloves. Then she takes off her hat. When the tinker is gone, Elisa undergoes almost a ritualistic transformation. She gets undressed, bathes herself, looks at her naked body, and then gets dressed. She decides to put on fancy underwear, a nice dress, and makeup. These feminine clothes show a sharp contrast sharply with the gardening clothes she was wearing and reflect the newly energized Elisa. In the end of the story, when Elisa has seen the castoff shoots, she takes off her coat collar to conceal tears, which suggest her return into the repressed state she has lived most of her adult life.

The main symbol of the story is of course chrysanthemums. They symbolize Elisa and her limited life. Chrysanthemums are pretty, strong, and thriving, like Elisa. Elisa identifies herself with the flowers. When the tinker sees the chrysanthemums, Elisa is pleased because it is as if he noticed her instead. By offering the chrysanthemums to him she offers herself, both he tosses aside. His rejection shows the way society has rejected women.

John Steinbeck’s short story The Chrysanthemums proves that he had an understanding of women’s struggles in his day.

The main theme in the story is an understated but obvious critique of a society that has no place for intelligent women. Elisa is smart, attractive, energetic, and ambitious woman, but all these characteristics are wasted in the society she lives in.

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100001131
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CREATED ON
August 27, 2016
COMPLETED ON
August 28, 2016
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$38
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