What is the image of the woman in "The Chrysanthemums" by John Steinback?

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chicagorilke23's profile pic

chicagorilke23 | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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The image of the Elisa Allen in John Steinbeck's The Chrysanthemums is that she is a flower. Much like the flowers she grows, she can only go as far as they typically go which is within the confines of the ranch. At the beginning of the story she is fine with her place on the ranch until a man comes that repairs items and does small tasks. When the Tinker man begins to chat with Elisa, hoping to get work, he awakens a dormant spirit with in her. She suddenly is alive from conversing with a new person and one that seems so interested in how well she is able to grow her plants. He recognizes in her what her husband has failed to see. After Elisa gives the Tinker man a Chrysanthemum, she is filled with hope for herself and a new connection to the world outside the ranch. Sadly, when she is driving to dinner with her husband, she sees the Chrysanthemum that she gave the Tinker man on the side of the road. The flower is tossed aside as if it were nothing of importance. Elisa sees this and feels the limits of her existence really do not go beyond that of the ranch and her husband.

parkerlee's profile pic

parkerlee | Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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In this very sparse theatrical short story, Steinbeck portrays Elisa in a contradictory way. She is a childless but happily married woman who takes pride in her home and domestic skills, particulary gardening. She has built a comfortable life for her husband and herself but has become either bored or restless with the rather monotonous lifestyle she leads. For this reason she is delighted to share her passion for growing flowers with a stranger who appears at first to be sincerely interested in her hobby. When he leaves, Elisa gives him a chrysanthemum (with roots!)to be replanted and cared for - only to later discover that he has thrown it away along the way. She realizes that the Tinker's so-called interest had been only polite sham to gratify her need of recognition and acceptance.

If Steinbeck makes no outward feminist statement in "The Chrysanthemums," he nevertheless portrays Elisa in a typical "housewifey" role which does not lend full potential to her existence. Elisa is frustrated by her self-constructed boundaries, with her own "smallness" and limited scope as well as her lack of contact with the outside world. However, she never seems to have made the connection between her obsession with gardening and her need to have nurtured children (which she never had).  In her attempt to find some kind of surrogate activity or preoccupation to take the place of children, she has neglected another basic need - that of finding her role in society beyond the perimeter of the ranch and her domestic responsibilities at home.

The story ends with no cymbals but rather rotates around the quiet interrogation if Elisa will indeed, upon this realization, find fulfilment after all.

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