While reading a short story called Chrysanthemums by Steinbeck, I have immediately understood that problems of gender attitudes are going to be discussed. The main heroine, Elisa Allen, belongs to stereotypical American housewives who are often ignored by their husbands and who are mistakenly believed to be not intelligent enough. Elisa is fond of flowers – chrysanthemums – that symbolize her role and place in society.
Though she is much more intelligent and passionate about what she is doing, her responsibilities are confined to planting the flowers and taking care of them. Her husband Henry and the tinker are less enthusiastic and adventurous, but their lives are full of duties and responsibilities. Learning more about this heroine provides me with a better picture of the diminished role of women in society. I often come across the families and societal structures where men take the leading positions where women are sidelined.
Though Elisa was fond of flowers, I was amazed at how passionate and anxious she was about looking after the chrysanthemums. She is keen on gardening, and it seems to me that all her energy is hidden in those flowers. When I came across the description of the heroine and that of flowers, I managed to find a strong similarity between those. Hence, Elisa is depicted as a “Her face was lean and strong, and her eyes were as clear as water” (Steinbeck 160).
Further, in the text, I noticed Elisa talking about her flowers, as if talking about herself: “They’ll be strong this coming year” (Steinbeck 160). Hence, there is much symbolism and allegoric representations in the story. Similar to chrysanthemums planted in a flowerbed, Elisa is attached to her house; she often identifies herself with these plants, by saying that she would become one with flowers.
Even when both her husband and the strange man start talking about Elisa’s garden, the main character brightens as if they are talking about her. At the same time, Elisa understands that gardening does not interest the men; they ignore and reject women’s role in society by tossing them out on the road. Finally, flowers are often described as beautiful serving to decorate the garden, just like Alisa’s function is confined to keeping the house.
One the one hand, I should admit that the writer has managed to sufficiently render the stereotypic image of women of his time, as well as how they were treated in society. His vision of society in the second half of the century is closely connected with the concept of the American Dream and that of the Great Depression. The Allens represented a standard family, a marriage based on formal relations. In such a way, the author emphasizes the inevitability and dullness of existence.
The relations seem to be built by the established norms. The main heroine realizes that she has no personal opinion; she is like a flower – deprived of individualism and freedom of choice. All these plot lines are enhanced by constantly repeating words, “strong,” “good,” and “fix.” The heroes, therefore, acted according to a written scenario dictated by existing social conditions.
In conclusion, I should note that the story accurately mirrors the historical and social events in the second half of the past century. Because the author lived in the time of the Great Depression, he managed to describe the social structure, gender relations, and the role of men and women in society.
Steinbeck, John. “Chysantemums”. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Robert Zweig. US: Prentice Hall, 2011. Print.