John Steinbeck used his short story, The Chrysanthemums, as a visual illustration to answer the adage, “Is the grass “really” greener on the other side?“ During The Great Depression, the American dream had become a nightmare. What was once the land of opportunity was now the land of desperation. What was once the land of hope and optimism had become the land of despair. The American people were questioning all the maxims on which they had based their lives - democracy, capitalism, individualism. By the beginning of the next decade the United States had gone from a laissez-faire economy that oversaw its own conduct to an economy regulated by the federal government.
John Steinbeck, who witnessed all these drastic and dramatic changes, used this short story to illustrate what he felt was the questing mind-set of American men and women. He not only made people consider the rhetorical question, “Is the grass really any greener on the other side?“, but he sought to answer it. The reader senses that this woman, Elisa Allen, is a woman who is very unhappy with her life. She feels boxed in, limited, and unfulfilled. The only satisfaction, the only pride, and the only pleasure Elisa gets out of life is being in her garden with her "family" of chrysanthemums. She has fenced in the garden, to insure that it remains off limits to everyone, including her husband, the dogs, the cattle, and visitors. Elisa feels like a prisoner in a prison of her own making. While Henry Allen, her husband, embraces farm life in
their peaceful valley, Elisa Allen feels like a drudge, who is isolated, out of the loop, and wasting away from the tedium, hard work, and day to day monotony on the farm, away from the real and exciting world and people outside her valley. She bestows all her love, her attention, and her spare time on her chrysanthemums, as if they were her only allowed talent, gift, and accomplishment, since they are a childless couple.
Elisa’s garden is her private escape, where she is free to daydream, yearn, and wonder about life outside of her valley. Her little fenced in garden not only keeps the dogs and cattle out, but her husband does not trespass in it either. It is hers and hers alone. Elisa shows signs that she is miserable in her marriage and her life, by being curt and dismissive to her husband, uninterested in his buyers, and equally rude and dismissive towards the panhandler that rides up in an ancient, rickety, covered wagon. being pulled by an old horse and a mule.
He informs Elisa that he travels up and down the west coast year round looking for work to be able to make a living. He mends pots and pans, as well as sharpens knives and scissors for customers. He is a very big man who has learned to read people well. He is engaging, slippery, and a con-artist, who is...