Essay, Research Paper: Chrysanthemums By John Steinbeck

Literature: Steinbeck

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John Steinbeck wrote The Chrysanthemums in 1938. Steinbeck, as in many of his
novels and short stories, depicts the life of poor, hard working people. In The
Chrysanthemums, Steinbeck writes about a farmer’s wife living in California.
The couple lives on a farm, as many individuals did in that time. Steinbeck
describes the physical and mental hardships of families living off the land. In
the short story, The Chrysanthemums, Elisa is constantly with held from life
because she is a woman. “On every side it (the valley) sat like a lid on the
mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot.” Under the lid was
Salinas Valley, the home of Henry and Elisa Allen. Henry was a farmer who made a
fair amount of money from his crops and stock. Elisa was Henry’s wife; she had
the hobby of taking care of her Chrysanthemums and the chore of being Henry’s
wife. In Elisa’s garden, the Chrysanthemums grew with the work of her hands
and the care of her heart. She seems to enjoy her garden immensely, but actually
was trapped in it. She was trapped, because she felt that the only thing she
could do was tend her garden. Henry tells Elisa that her flowers were very good
last year and some of the yellow flowers were 10 inches across. Henry told
Elisa, “I wish you’d work out in the orchard and raise some apples that
big.” Elisa said, ”Maybe I could do it, too. I’ve a gift with things, all
right.” Henry changes the subject and starts talking about his livestock that
he sold. Henry would not let her try her green thumb on the orchard, because of
this, Elisa started to feel the pain of being a woman One day as Elisa was
tending her garden, a wagon was passing on the road. Elisa looked up expecting
the wagon to pass, but it did not. The wagon pulled up the driveway. Painted on
the side of the wagon in sloppy words was, “Pots, pans, knifes, sisors, lawn
mores, Fixed”. A big, hairy man got out of the wagon and offered to fix her
scissors for her. Elisa claimed she had nothing to be fixed. In hope of getting
work, the man complimented her flower garden, and as he had planned, the two
started talking. They talked about his being on the road. Elisa asked him about
where he sleeps and where he lives. “Right in the wagon, ma’am. Rain or
shine I’m dry as a cow in there.” Elisa said, “It must be very nice. I
wish a woman could do such things.” The man replied, “It ain’t the right
kind of life for a woman.” This is one instance where Elisa feels trapped as a
woman. Elisa asked, “How do you know? How can you tell?” Elisa does not get
an answer. He quickly changed the subject and started talking about her
flowerbed. She told the man that the reason the Chrysanthemums were so big, is
that her mother had planter hands that made plants grow and the hands were
passed on to Elisa. He stated that someone down the road needed some
Chrysanthemums. She was happy to share her garden; she put a Chrysanthemum bulb
into a pot and handed it to the fix–all man. Elisa gave him special
instructions for the care of the flowers. After this, Elisa decides to let him
work, on a few aluminum saucepans. Elisa pays the man and he leaves. Now that
the man was gone; Elisa ran to the house, tore off her soiled clothes, and took
a hot shower. She scrubbed her body, hard and long, with a pumice stone. She
needed to rid herself of the fix-all man. Elisa got out of the shower and looked
at herself in the mirror. She looked at her naked body, sucking in her stomach
and pushing out her chest. Elisa then put on her nicest under garments. She also
put on her newest, favorite dress; the symbol of her prettiness. Soon, Henry
comes in the room and says, “Why–why, Elisa you look so nice.” Elisa
replied, “Nice? You think I look nice? What do you mean by nice?” Henry
replied, “I don’t know. I mean you look different, strong, and happy.” The
couple leaves the house to go out to eat. As they were driving down the road,
they pass the fix –all man. She looked back and saw her flower bulbs and sands
lying on the road. The man kept the flowerpot. Elisa turned to the window and
wept bitterly. Elisa then asked Henry, “Henry can we have wine for dinner?”
Then she implied that she might want to go to the fights. Henry had never seen
her act this way. Elisa turned up her coat collar so that Henry would not see
her crying weakly–like an old woman. Elisa was a woman who had many conflicts.
She was living in her flower garden. Everything that Elisa does not have is put
into her garden. Her husband would not let her do any “man’s” work on the
farm. The fix–all man did not even acknowledge her want of being out on the
road. He said it was a “man’s” job. Elisa was repressed and had no way of
expressing her feelings, except through the flowers in her garden. She wanted
something new to make her feel like a woman. She scrubbed herself so deeply in
the shower in hope of cleaning herself anything that was not lady like. Elisa
had no where to turn. At the end of The Chrysanthemums, Elisa excepts herself as
an old woman. Elisa gave up. She did not care anymore. Elisa will probably be
living her life through the Chrysanthemums, until the day she dies.
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