John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums”John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums” shows the true feelings of the main character, Elisa Allen, through the use of setting and her interactions with other characters in the story. By way of vivid descriptions, Elisa’s feelings of dissatisfaction over the lack of excitement in her life are portrayed. Her role as a mere housewife and then the subsequent change to feelings of a self-assured woman are clearly seen. These inner feelings are most apparent with the portrayal of Elisa working in the garden with the chrysanthemums, the conversation she has with the man passing through, and finally, when she and her husband are going out to dinner.
Steinbeck’s strong and somewhat manly description of Elisa while working in the garden, gives the distinct impression that she is not as weak as a stereotypical housewife would be. He writes that “Her face was lean and strong and her eyes were as clear as water. Her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume, a man’s black hat pulled low down over her eyes, clodhopper shoes, a figured print dress almost completely covered by a big corduroy apron with four big pockets to hold the snips, the trowel and scratcher, the seeds and the knife she worked with.” As evidenced by this excerpt you can see that she has covered up her hair with a “man’s hat” and has thrown an apron over her dress in attempts to cover up her femininity. This apron also takes on a similar role as a man’s tool belt as he works the land. This initial description lends to the notion that Elisa wants to be stronger as a woman, to stand beyond the stereotype of a housewife. Other phrases used by Steinbeck further the above points. The author mentions that her face was “handsome,” her work with the scissors was “over-powerful,” and her fingers “destroyed such pests.” This description shows an inner strength that Elisa possesses; yet she is unable to bring this out. She also hints to the reader that she would like to take on more masculine responsibilities after her husband Henry comments on the size and beauty of her chrysanthemums. He says that he wishes she’d work out in the orchard and “raise some apples that big.” She reacts to this by saying “Maybe I could do it too. I’ve got a gift with things, all right. My mother had it. She could stick anything in the ground and make it grow.” All of these de…
…sion of Steinbeck’s short story, Steinbeck has her fall right back into the rut she so despised. She comes back to reality and “turned up her coat collar so he could not see that she was crying weakly-like an old woman.”
Elisa’s inner feelings are most apparent with the portrayal of her working in the garden, the conversation she has with the “Fixer-Guy”, and finally, when she and her husband are going out to dinner. Steinbeck offers an array of different details concerning the character of Elisa Allen. The main detail being that she is a strong woman on the inside although she seems to struggle in showing it throughout the story. Because of the “Pot Fixer,” she is able to act, although for a short time, like that strong woman. Steinbeck unfortunately brings Elisa full-circle, back to where she started. She notices on the way to dinner her chrysanthemum sprouts at the roadside. This, along with her husband’s hesitation to allow her curiosity, puts her back where she started, canceling her emergence. One must ask after reading this short story if Elisa will continue this discontented lifestyle. Or will she be able to blossom beautifully for good, as do her chrysanthemums?