When John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums” was first published in the 1930’s, it was a time of great societal change. Women, who had always been seen as fragile and weak, were struggling for equality in a male dominated society. This story was Steinbeck’s attempt to draw attention to this subject, and bring these issues to light.
This story is centered on the main character Elisa Allen. Elisa is unhappy and frustrated with her position in life, and she is struggling to establish masculinity in any way that she can. Her character is first introduced as “blocked and heavy”, with clodhoppers, heavy gloves and a man’s black hat. Her face is described as “eager and mature and handsome. All of these are very masculine descriptions, like Steinbeck is going out of his way to make her seem as manly as possible.
Elisa’s initial reactions to situations in the book tend to be masculine as well, but she is eventually reminded that she is supposed to be feminine. When her husband Henry concludes his business with the cattle buyers, Elisa immediately wants to know who the men were and what they wanted. Henry pays her a compliment about her “strong new crop” of chrysanthemums. She is smug and pleased with his masculine choice of words, but then he immediately invites her to dinner in town. She seems to deflate at his statement, as if his invitation reminded her of her femininity. She then goes back to her masculine role of working with the flowers.
She again reacts this way with the handy man that comes to her fence. She initially rejects the man’s offer to fix her pots and pans and to sharpen her scissors. She tells him that she can mend her own pots and sharpen her own scissors. She is ready to turn him away, but then he starts to ask her about her chrysanthemums. The man starts complimenting her flowers and flattering her. She immediately changes her tune, and she seems to become attracted to him. He...