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John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums": A Woman Bound By Society


❶Among the latter are the ways in which Steinbeck's language emerges from Elisa works in her garden, cutting down old chrysanthemum stalks, while her husband Henry discusses business with two men across the yard.

Critical Evaluation

“The Chrysanthemums” Essay
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The story appeared in Harper's Magazine in ; a revised version, which contained less sexual imagery, was published in the collection The Long Valley. Many critics believe the story reflected Steinbeck's own sense of frustration, rejection, and loneliness at the time the story was written. Elisa works in her garden, cutting down old chrysanthemum stalks, while her husband Henry discusses business with two men across the yard.

After the men leave, Henry leans over the fence where Elisa is working and comments on her gardening talents. After Elisa agrees, Henry teasingly proposes that they go to the fights that night as well.

Once Henry departs, a battered covered wagon driven by a tinker pulls up to the house. The tinker asks Elisa if she has any pots to mend. She declines several times, but once the tinker notices and compliments Elisa's chrysanthemums, her mood changes from slight irritation to exuberance.

The tinker tells Elisa about a woman on his route who would like chrysanthemum seeds, and Elisa happily places several sprouts in a red pot for him. She then finds two saucepans for the tinker to repair before he leaves.

Elisa rushes into the house, where she bathes, studies her naked body in the mirror, and dresses for the evening. As the couple leaves for dinner in their roadster, Elisa notices the chrysanthemum sprouts she had given the tinker lying in the road and asks her husband if they could have wine with dinner. A few minutes pass before she wonders aloud whether the boxers at the prize fights hurt each other very much and whether women ever attend. Some critics have viewed Elisa as a feminist figure, while others—arguing that Elisa both emasculates her husband and engages in an infidelity with the tinker—have argued that the story is an attack against feminism.

Other critics have detected the influence of D. Its compelling rhythm underlines its suggestiveness, and nothing in the story is false or out of place. But in the heaviness and monotony of her life, shielded by her clothing and her garden fence, she has been unable to do that.

That is, at least until someone finally comes into Elisa's life and she is able to let that person into herself. One must note that it is not the tinker, per se, who allows Elisa to transition as she does, but rather Elisa herself. Elisa is the one who removes her own barriers, who lets someone else into her life. The tinker is merely a catalyst to allow Elisa to do so.

At the end of the story, although it may seems as if Elisa is broken, in reality she has actually truly grown. As Elisa and her husband leave for dinner, she sees that the tinker has thrown her chrysanthemums onto the side of the road. This is a painful experience for her--she realizes that she has been exploited, in a way. She has let someone into the most personal aspects of her life and soul, has given him a piece of herself quite literally and the tinker has merely discarded it.

Up until this moment, allowing herself to feel has only been positive for Elisa. But now she realizes that to truly experience life, one must feel pain as well. This is difficult for Elisa.

She wants to revert back to her "fog" of not feeling; she wants to take away the pain by putting up her barriers again. We see this when she asks Henry if they can have "wine with dinner.

But Elisa cannot turn back now. At the end of the story, Elisa is "crying weakly, like an old woman. No longer is she shielded by the "fog" of her walls; instead, she is open to feeling; she is open to the groth that the "rain" implies.

Steinbeck is not saying that this feeling and growth is always pleasant, but he is making a comment that to feel life, even in all its pain, is far better than to not live at all, as Elisa has beforehand. Because Elisa now has the capacity to cry, we know that Elisa has grown.

What about the word "enough" that she uses? How does that fit in? Through one brief moment in the life of a protagonist, he argues that to feel is the essence of the human experience, even when feeling is painful. He argues that the only way we can truly live and grow as humans is to feel in this way, and the only way to feel is to let another into one's life.

Although the tinker ultimately hurts Elisa, if she had not let him into her world and revealed herself to him, she would never have felt anything in the first place -- not the hurt of his betrayal or the joy of his interest in her. A positive growth does not always mean a happy ending, and in "The Chrysanthemums," Steinbeck shows us just that. However, gardening was the thing she really enjoyed, and the thing that brought her inspiration. Her real passion was chrysanthemums. The meaning and symbolism of chrysanthemums varies from country to country- in some they symbolize death and lamentation, in others are symbol of honesty.

But I think that for Elisa, chrysanthemums were the thing to care, like about children, which she never had. She loves and cares chrysanthemums; she protects them from the environment, as any good mother would protect her children from harmful outside influence. Elisa is happy to have the possibility to nurture those flowers, and she is very proud when her husbands compliments her flowers, however he equally says that he hopes she had raised apples which would be as good as flowers.

She is just thirty-five years old and she needs more passion and romance in her life. She wants that her husband admired her more like a woman, and not just treated her warmly as the partner and friend. Chrysanthemums are the symbol of her femininity.

But it is not solely her husband fault that he treats her like that, as she equally cannot tell him and point out what she wants their relationship look like. And may be if she could tell him, everything would change. Elisa is thinking too much instead of trying to talk and to know what feels her husband in reality. She is living in the illusion, wanting something and waiting for something she even cannot express. Although his hair and beard were graying, he did not look old.

At once she shows no interest in tinker and in the services he provides. They are talking about life and she rejects all the propositions to repair something. Tinker by showing interest to chrysanthemums figuratively showed interest to her, to her femininity and sexuality.

For tinker, it was the right marketing step to sell his services and get the pot, as being probably the good psychologist; he understood how to appeal to the women and how to make her change her mind. Tinker gave Elisa what she needed- admiration with her passion. It was the key to her soul. It was very important to Elisa to know that someone also may be interested in her passion for gardening, and therefore she may be interesting to the world. Tinker gave her the thought that she can do more in her life and play the greater role in society.


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In “The Chrysanthemums,” the image of weather figures importantly in the story’s symbolism. For example, Elisa represses her femininity and her sexual desires in her marriage in a day in which women’s submission was often the norm.

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The Chrysanthemums essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of .

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- This essay of literary criticism is going to be on the Chrysanthemums written by John Steinbeck. This short story is considered to be one of the greatest short stories of all time. The author uses characterization to describe Elisa, she is a dynamic character. In the essay by John Steinbeck called The Chrysanthemums, he was able to give a glimpse to what it was like being a woman and living in a male dominated world. The main character Elisa is an interesting, intelligent, and passionate woman who lives an unsatisfying, and under stimulated life.

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“The Chrysanthemums” Essay. 1. Introduction In John Steinbeck’s short story “The Chrysanthemums” the fighting for equal rights are depicted though the character of the Elisa Allen. Women are generally considered to . Oct 06,  · Sample essay for English In John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums," Elisa Allen signifies the idea that it is only through revealing ourselves to another person that we can truly feel, and subsequently, grow.