How are Elisa in "The Chrysanthemums" by John Steinbeck and the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" similar?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would want to approach this question by talking about the way that Eliza and the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" are both trapped in various ways, and how their position of a woman contributes to this entrapment.

Eliza in "The Chrysanthemums" is definitely a character who feels hemmed in. Note the way that nature itself has "closed off" the Salinas Valley from everything else through the "high grey-flannel fog of winter" that traps Eliza from the outside world. We can perhaps understand the way that she is trapped and inhibited: physically, emotionally and spiritually. All it takes is the visiting tinker to show a bit of interest in her chrysanthemums and she shows that she is desperate to reach out and experience some form of human connection:

Kneeling there, her hand went out toward his legs in the greasy black trousers. Her hesistant fingers almost touched the cloth. Then her hand dropped to the ground. She crouched low like a fawning dog.

We see the huge emotional isolation that encompasses her life and how, when she realises that her gift of the chrysanthemums had been thrown to one side by this man, she is reduced to "crying weakly--like an old woman."

In the same way, the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" is trapped inside her insanity, which is a condition that is worsened thanks to her husband and his belief that he knows what is best for his sick wife. She is desperate to leave the room and to write, and yet at every turn the husband unknowingly exacerbates her condition, until she identifies so strongly with the woman that she sees in the wallpaper that she becomes that woman: constrained, trapped and suffocated, intellectually, emotionally and physically. Note what she says towards the end of the story:

I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard!

She has identified so strongly with the woman that she sees trying to escape from behind the wallpaper and the way that she symbolises pent up female frustration that she has literally become that woman.

Thus both characters from these excellent short stories show themselves to be trapped and constrained in a variety of different ways.

Read the study guide:
The Chrysanthemums

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