“The Chrysanthemums” is one of John Steinbeck’s popular short stories. “The Chrysanthemums” represents inequality of gender, limitations, and feminism. The story is about a married woman living in the early 1900s who longs for a more exciting, meaningful existence. Elisa Allen is intelligent, accomplished, attractive, and ambitious. Yet she feels confined in her life and marriage.
Steinbeck uses the world around Elisa to give the reader a comparison to her life. The story takes place in the Salinas Valley at her husband, Henry Allen’s, ranch in the foot-hills. Steinbeck opens the story up by describing to us how the fog closes off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from the rest of the world. “The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed of the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world” (438). This comparison shows how Elisa feels inside. Even her house compares to a prison. “Behind her stood the neat white farmhouse with red geraniums close-banked around it as high as the windows” (439). Elisa spends most of her days alone, behind her wire fence. She feels cut off from society.
Elisa’s husband works as a successful rancher but doesn’t involve the smart and interested Elisa with the business of the ranch. In his eyes she belongs in the house or the garden. They don’t have an intimate relationship and it lacks any kind of romance. In the beginning of the story, she watches from a distance behind the wire fence as her husband talks with the men in suits but Henry does not invite her over.
Elisa wants to travel and be free to do as she pleases but is suppressed by society because of her gender. She becomes intrigued when she meets a traveling repairman by his way of life. When Elisa expresses interest to him about his life, “It must be very nice. I wish women could do such things.” The wanderer tells her, “It ain’t the right kind of life for a woman” (445)....