Sexuality in John Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums Essay

Sexuality in Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums Reading over this excellent story once more, I am again filled with

the same emotion (if it can be called that) that I experienced when first

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reading it. Steinbeck planned for that. In a letter to George Albee in

1933, Steinbeck comments on this story and his interest in Albee’s opinion

of it. “…It is entirely different and is designed to strike without the

reader’s knowledge. I mean he reads it casually and after it is finished

feels that something profound has happened to him although he does not know

what nor how.” I knew after reading this, that Steinbeck is truly a marvel.

It is one thing to have enough luck to leave your reader’s with this sense

after they’ve read something of yours, but to have it happen to them when

you’ve actually planned it! This is incredible.

I was not the only person feel what Steinbeck had planned. And in

that group, I was not the only one to want to pick apart this story to find

out why I felt this way, what he intended me to feel, and what his story

meant taking all things into consideration. when looking at various

criticisms, I found a division line that could be made between the sexes.

Most women agreed with me and felt the sexual tension apparent in the story.

This sexual tension was quiet and sensual. The only men that picked up on

this picked out some overtly sexual innuendoes and chose to ignore the

subtleties as Eliza’s mood changes and tone of voice. The other men

attributed any sexual tension to Eliza’s need for children, which is a

valid point, but it ignores too many other things in the story to fit it


…e predominantly male or predominantly female side, nor can they be pushed

into little cubby holes that define the different stereo-types of a woman.

Her androgyny uses such stereo-types to define her, and to go over that and

then use even more to define the end product of the story would be a


Works Cited

Steinbeck, John. “The Chrysanthemums” 1937. Literature. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs eds. London: Prentice Hall, 1998.

Mitchell, Marylin L. “‘Steinbeck’s Strong Women’: Feminine Identity in the Short Stories,” Southwest Review, Vol. 61, No. 3, Summer, 1976, pp. 304-15.

McMahah, Elizabeth E. “‘The Chrysanthemums’: Study of a Woman’s Sexuality,” Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. XIV, No 4. Winter, 1968-69, pp. 453-58.

Hughes, R. S. John Steinbeck: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989.

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