She was wearing “a man’s black hat…clod-hopper shoes, heavy leather gloves” and “a big corduroy apron” doing her best to cover up her femininity. In John Steinbeck’s short story, “The Chrysanthemums”, we are introduced to Elisa Allen. Elisa is living during a period after the Great Depression when women’s rights issues were becoming a topic of public concern. Steinbeck uses the character Elisa Allen to portray the women’s struggle for equality. She is a woman deprived of social, personal and sexual fulfillment in a male-dominated world. Elisa struggles to find satisfaction in her womanhood and a desire to escape from her isolated world.
“She was thirty-five. Her face was eager and mature and handsome…her figure looked blocked and heavy…” Elisa seems to be very masculine in appearance, and envious of the male authority. She has a very strong character and wishes to be independent and free herself. She struggles with the idea of women being inferior to men and feels that she must live up to what society believes a woman should be, passive. Elisa is unhappy and bored with the traditional roles she must play being a woman and frequently tries to behave as a man would. In several points in the story, she seems to take on a masculine role. For instance, when the man looking for work came by the house, she took authority and told him sternly “I tell you I have nothing like that for you to do”, a typical male response. She shows her strong qualities as she refuses him work making her feel like she has authority over him. Elisa tries so hard to be equal to her husband; she works so hard in her garden as he works on the farm. He compliments her garden, “you’ve got a strong new crop coming”, making her feel that she is equal to him in her eyes. However he returns with “I wish you’d work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big”, completely neglecting her prize possession, her chrysanthemums, and unknowingly disrespecting her. She fights for his attention and acceptance throughout the story. This makes her turn weaker and weaker until the point where she does not care anymore and accepts the fact that she is a woman and consequently, inferior.
“On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made the great valley a closed pot.” Steinbeck is showing how isolated Elisa feels and how hard it would be to escape the “pressure of the closed pot”. In many parts of the story she seems very frustrated and trapped with her life and has a need to let go. She envies the freedom of the visitor, “you sleep right in the wagon…it must be nice”. However, he reminds her of her sexuality by saying “it ain’t the right kind of a life for a woman”. Elisa becomes very defensive by this remark, the feeling of hopelessness comes over her and she realizes that she is indeed inferior to men.
Elisa tends her garden with care and finds happiness and strength in it. Figuratively speaking, it takes the place...