The Chrysanthemums

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John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums”, is a story about a woman struggling with strong inner feelings of loneliness and isolation. Elisa Allen is initially portrayed as a woman who overcompensates and whose tasks are far exceeded by her abilities. She appears content with her life and adores tending to her garden. However, a tinker briefly enters her life and through his power of persuasion and manipulation provides Elisa with hopes of change and excitement. He gives her the much needed attention she is so desperately looking for. As the story continues we learn that these hopes are crushed as we unravel the betrayal the tinker has bestowed upon Elisa. He exploits her and takes advantage of her hunger for company, aspirations, and vulnerabilities. We are left with sympathy for a woman who longs for another life, but will never possess it. Elisa’s inner feelings of loneliness are most apparent with the vivid descriptions of Elisa’s appearance, the portrayal of her working in her garden, the conversation she has with the tinker, and her dinner date with her husband.

When we first meet Elisa cultivating her beloved garden, she is introduced as possessing masculine like features, “her face was eager and mature and handsome” (Steinbeck 348). Steinbeck’s strong and somewhat masculine description of Elisa’s appearance is vastly different than that of a typical woman. While woman stand out and gain attention for their femininity, Elisa is hidden behind masculine like features, a huge apron, and a man’s hat. Thus, she isolates herself from the rest of society and fades into the background. Still, Elisa appears content in the life she is living and cheerful with the hand she has been dealt. She happily and diligently tends to her beloved flowers, concentrating on the logistics of creating a beautiful garden. Although her movements were over exaggerated, “her work with the scissors was over-eager, over-powerful” (Steinbeck 348). Her garden is her heart and soul. She...
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