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In John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums," as Elisa, both realistically and...

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fnavarro8096 | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 19, 2011 at 1:09 PM via web

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In John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums," as Elisa, both realistically and symbolically, goes out into the world, has she found any resolution to her problem?—speak to why she ends the story, "crying weakly."

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 19, 2011 at 2:23 PM (Answer #1)

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In the story, "The Chrysanthemums," by John Steinbeck, Elisa's "sense of power" comes from her ability to make things grow. She takes great pride in this, and this helps her to define who she is and recognize her value, but it does not go beyond the flowers.

When she meets the peddler, he manipulates her into agreeing to have him do some work (so he can make money), which she had originally resisted. He does it by praising her flowers—like her children, she has a soft spot for them:

The man leaned farther over the fence. "Look. I know a lady down the road a piece, has got the nicest garden you ever seen. Got early every kind of flower but not chrysanthemums...she said to me, 'If you ever run acrost some nice chrysanthemums I wish you'd try to get me a few seeds.' That's why she told me."

Elisa's response indicates that the man's ruse has worked:

Elisa's eyes grew alert and eager.

Then Elisa shares with him what the reader can recognize as a secret desire:

"You sleep right in the wagon?" Elisa asked.

"Right in the wagon, ma'am. Rain or shine I'm dry as a cow in there."

"It must be nice," she said. "It must be very nice. I wish women could do such things."

The peddler speaks for polite society—that of men—which controls the actions and liberties (or lack thereof) of a woman, especially one who is married:

"It ain't the right kind of life for a woman."

When Elisa and her husband go into town later that evening, Elisa is reminded that she is not her own person. Her ability to make things grow is important to her (and is probably symbolic of the role of a woman—giving life to babies), but this ability is not admired by the world (represented by the peddler). This is evident when she sees the sprouts she had given him, discarded on the side of the road.

She weeps weakly because she knows that as a woman, she lives a confined life; her husband may love her, and he does praise her ability to grow flowers, but he is part of the society that will not allow her to defy the rules of "civilized man." She will never sleep out under the stars after traveling in a wagon. She will never know the freedom of moving from place to place at her own whim. The "limitations" of society make her a prisoner, and it hits her especially hard in realizing how easily the peddler used something she loved to trick her.

Elisa finds no resolution to her problem: realistically she may not go out into the world and make her own way. Symbolically, she is a prisoner—like a bird in a cage. A cage of "gold," is still a cage. If anything, the events of the story clearly define the confines of her "cell," making her more aware than ever of how little she is actually able to do with her life.

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