What does "The Chrysanthemums" suggest about gender roles?
It is important to focus on the presentation of the central character in this story, Elisa, is presented. From the very beginning of this excellent tale Steinbeck is quick to focus on the limitations of her life and the way in which she is trapped--even by the weather. Note how the story begins by creating a very strong image of restriction and incarceration:
The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from teh sky and from all the rest of the world. On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made of teh great valley a closed pot.
The way in which the story begins, coupled with the descriptive detail that "there was no sunshine in the valley no in December," does much to reveal the kind of life that Elisa lives. She is trapped and restricted, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We can see how she suffers from loneliness by the way that she desperately shares her passion with the only person who shows any interest whatsoever in what is important to her. Elisa has to physically restrain herself from reaching out and clinging onto his leg. Her need turns her into a "fawning dog." It is clear that her marriage and her position as a farmer's wife is not fulfilling her and is not creating the necessary conditions for her to thrive in her own self. Her attempts to reach out and communicate with her husband, who is not a bad man in himself, reduce her to "crying weakly--like an old woman," as she realises that the man she had talked to was not interested in her or what she said at all, as the discarded chrysanthemum shoots illustrate.
Thus throughout this story Steinbeck presents the way in which marriage and society has reduced Elisa to a state of unfulfilled, desperate loneliness, where she is not able to truly connect to anyone. Women are shown to live a bleak life in the world of this short story, where they are misunderstood by the menfolk that surround them.