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The Chrysanthemums Case

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The Chrysanthemums: Literary Analysis Paper from a Feminist Perspective

When John Steinbeck's short story "The Chrysanthemums" first appeared, many women

were fighting for equality in a male-dominated civilization. For most women, to be free from

traditional socially imposed constraints, such as those arising from stereotyping woman, was a

harsh fight usually ending in loss. Elisa Allen portrayed the struggle for equality in John

Steinbeck "The Chrysanthemums". This story portrays Elisa a tough, but able minded woman

kept from personal, social, and sexual fulfillment by the existing stereotype of a woman's role in

a world controlled by men. Elisa's physical visual appeal, activities, and presentation illustrate

the particular aggravation women experienced in Steinbeck's masculine whole arena of the

1930's. "Steinbeck's world," sees Charles A. Sweet, Jr., "is a man's world, a world that frustrates

even the smallest group of women's liberationists".

Elisa's frustrations are clearly evident when she is introduced. Her body is described as

being "blocked and heavy" because she is wearing heavy gloves, heavy shoes, a "man's black

hat," and a big apron that hides her printed dress (Steinbeck, pg.375, para.5). Her home is

described as having manly qualities "It was a hard-swept looking little house, with hard-polished

windows" (Steinbeck, pg.375, Para. 8). Elisa is uninterested with her life and discontented with

the conventional female role and is attempting to broaden her abilities into masculine areas.

At first, Elisa reacts to each circumstances as a man would, but is reminded that she is a

woman. Henry, her husband, comments on how "strong" her chrysanthemum crop is and she is

clearly pleased the masculinity the word implies, but is quickly reminded of her womanliness

when Henry offers her a night out. After the chat, she resumes her masculine role of

transplanting the flowers.

The next circumstance involves the tinker. The tinker is to Elisa what the meat buyers

were to Henry. Elisa refuses to give the tinker any work, a common response a man would have

towards others. But as the tinker and Elisa converse, Elisa's deliberate and conscious masculine

efforts become more and more feminine. The tinker then works her over and pretends to be

interested in her love for her prize chrysanthemums. He describes them as "quick puff of colored

smoke" (Steinbeck, pg. 377, para.53). "Elisa took off her gloves and stuffed them in the apron

pocket with the scissors. She touched the under edge of her man's hat, searching for fugitive

hairs" (Steinbeck, pg.377, para.43), here is where her feminine side starts to emerge. She is

attracted to the tinker

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