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Feminism and Exploitation in John Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums – Essay Sample

Feminism and Exploitation in John Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums – Essay Sample

John Steinbeck, in his short story “The Chrysanthemums” depicts the story of a strong and brave woman, who faced the deterrent grunt of the male chauvinistic society and is inflicted with the torment of constant mental agony. The writer encompassed the vision of a woman trapped in a man’s world. He sets the background on the panoramic Salinas Valley, in a cold and foggy winter morning, and portrays the myriad emotions of the protagonist Elisa Allen. She looked apparently happy with her husband Henry, a rancher. She felt deprived, intimidated and lonely, much because of the fact that she had no children. This contemplated into subtle yet cold strains of emotional stagnation in the life of the couple.

Elisa is thirty-five, lean and strong, with a strong and charismatic character. Her mental dismay and frustration failed to proliferate on her spirits. She was a fighter and lived for being the person she was. Henry tried to compensate Elisa’s grief with formal gestures of cordiality and compassion but much in vain. Elisa is shown to find peace and recluse in her Chrysanthemums garden and considered it as her surrogate children. She took pride in her skills as a gardener, and craved for being recognized for her work and potential. As the story proceeds, Elisa feels that her power and potential are confiscated within the barbed fence of her garden. She knew that she had the powers of the man, as she could plough, reap and toil like the masculine gender, much to her ignorance did she transcended in the form of male imitation. She knew that she had no feminine weakness and was imbibed with the strength of a man and thus tried to justify her impulses by camouflaging her beauty and sensuality in manly attire and a hat.

The story begins with Elisa working in her garden. She is surrounded by a barbed fence that is meant to protect her flowers from insects and pollution. Even though she was inclined to male facets, her motherly love for her flowers and her attachment to nature shows her ever subdued yet prevalent feminine qualities. There was a woman breathing in her senses,  “as she digs into the forest of new green chrysanthemum sprouts that were growing around the old roots”. Her husband approaches her to join the apple orchard. She knew that her talent was good but she said that apple orchard belonged to the man’s world.

Then came the stranger, the antagonist who made Elisa realise her real self. He was a worker and tried to insinuate Elisa’s feelings by ticking her qualities as an excellent gardener. He even wanted to carry some flowers for one of his customers. Elisa for some moments forgot her masculine charm and opened up trying to give the best of her flowers to be carried by the man. This made her mind filled with optimism and vigour of feminine acceptance. Elisa noticed “that under the high grey fog [the willow trees] seemed a thin band of sunshine”. As the stranger left, she waited for her husband. Henry was surprised at her fresh appearance and said, “Why,- why Elisa. You look so nice!…I mean you look different, strong and happy”. The appreciation of her husband for her beauty and her chastity made her realise that she in facts likes it. However Elisa confronts major shock when she sees that the stranger had thrown the chrysanthemum sprouts thrown into the road and only the pot was taken. She had a setback and that made her realise that she was in vain looking for the recluse of man power, as could be happy and contented in the life of a woman and a family. Finally Elisa cries at the end, making her look “like an old woman” and accept the fact that she has to live as a woman and has to be contended in the male dominated world.

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