Chrysanthemums Literary Review - the Antagonist Is Not Who You Would Think

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Stephens 1

Jeff Stephens

Kathleen Roddy

ENGL 1102-208

7-20-2011

The Antagonist is Not Who You Would Think
In “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck, the character’s conflicts are very obscure. The main character, Elisa, is in constant conflict with herself, which she projects onto her husband and the tinker. Though Elisa appears to be dissatisfied with her life, she has no way to change it, and she becomes increasingly crass as the story progresses. Although she appears to be the victim, she is the story’s antagonist.

Steinbeck describes different moods in relation to the fog and rain through the use of simile and metaphors. A specific use of this is when he writes about how the fog stretches across the roof of the valley, essentially closing it off like an iron kettle. He conveys, through the fog, that Elisa feels trapped and that only the rain can set her free, “fog and rain do not go together” (347). In his article, Gregory Palmerino takes note that the plowed fields represent Elisa’s fertile womanhood while the lack of rain would represent Henry’s sterile manhood. He points out that while Elisa’s character is well pronounced throughout; Henry’s character is “altogether absent” (165). Elisa’s feeling of being trapped and unattended is a predominant trait throughout the story.

Henry seems to be a lot like myself, and I identify with him through his steering clear of confrontations by using compliments and jokes. Palmerino states that “The initial dialogue between Henry and Elisa sets the tone for subsequent encounters and reveals the couple’s fundamental problem: they do not know how to fight” (165). Steinbeck shows that Henry is avoiding getting into an argument with his wife when he says, “Well, it sure works with flowers” Stephens 2

after “her eyes sharpened” (348). Even though there is no way to know, I could feel a pause there- an uncomfortable silence- even if it was brief. Henry and Elisa seemed to know that continuing this...
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