Throughout history, women have been portrayed as the weaker sex. As a result of these unfair social assumptions, women have been working hard to dissociate themselves from this stereotype and become more independent with their lives. In the story “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck, he describes Elisa Allen's frustration with her marriage, her sense of isolation from the world, and her hidden desires to express herself as a woman and to explore her sexuality by living a more passionate life.
The setting plays a significant role in the story. It reinforces Elisa's feelings of isolation from the world. The tale is set in the beautiful valley of Salinas, California, but with all its beauty, this location takes on the role of some sort of prison in which one could feel trapped. "The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world. On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot" (260). We can see how this atmosphere could have a negative effect on a person. Another part of the setting that plays an equally important roll is the fence that surrounds Elisa's garden from her husband and the rest of the world. "…He leaned over the wire fence that protected her flower garden from cattle and dogs and chickens" (260). These animals represent Henry's world, while the garden represents hers. The peddler is the first person to want to enter her world. Later Elisa decides to let him into her garden, and with that act, breaks the barrier that has isolated her from the outside.
The chrysanthemums themselves and her clothes illustrate a great deal about Elisa's struggle to find her own identity. The chrysanthemums meant a great deal to her. She grew them with the work of her hands and the care of her heart. We observe this when she talks about them so passionately with the peddler. The author portrays that "the stems seemed too small and easy for her energy" (260). This symbol makes it clear to the reader that she wants more from life than just being a gardener. Her initial appearance in the story is incredibly conservative and manly; "Her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume, a man's black hat pulled down over her eyes, clod-hopper shoes and heavy leather gloves…" yet still allows a feminine side to be noticed, "She wore a figured print dress almost completely covered by a corduroy apron…" (260). This imagery represents her repression of her own sexuality. Despite her hiding behind these symbolic clothes, she was still doing the "female" job of looking after the flower garden. She learns, but does not accept, that she possesses a weak feminine power not the masculine one she tried to achieve
The peddler is an especially important figure in this story and represents the kind of life Elisa Allen would like to experience. He is described as a big, bearded and greying man with an attractive presence, whose eyes are dark and full of...