In a Mans World

In John Steinbeck’s, Chrysanthemums, he generalizes the spirit of a woman and delivers to the audience her thoughts and underlying emotions of being a woman in a “man’s world. ” The chrysanthemums reflects Elisa’s character and her dreams of being free to grow, make decisions, free to travel, make her own money and most of all the desire to be attractive. Elisa feels closed in and secluded from the rest of the world, just as Steinbeck describes the atmosphere at the introduction of the story, “The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world” (192).
Feeling weak and powerless, Elisa unconsciously demonstrates the characteristics of masculinity in order to assimilate into a world not of a woman. For instance, she dresses in clothes that are too big for her feminine features and wears her husband’s huge hat which covers her soft womanly features. Therefore, all of her tools and gardening were, to her, considered “powerful” and strong. In lines 27-29, Elisa is clearly mimicking the power displayed the men talking in the shed (her husband and two men) “She looked down toward the men by the tractor shed now and then.
Her face was eager and mature and handsome; even her work with the scissors was over-eager, over-powerful” (193). Elisa’s deepest passion is to be strong and powerful. In line 29, the chrysanthemums are described as “too small and easy” as it seemed to Elisa, though, resembling her own self-image. She exhibits control in the presence of her husband, not to appear diminutive. As she responds to her husband’s comments (“You’ve got a strong new crop coming. ”) regarding her chrysanthemums, she straightens her stance and condescendingly tells him that her chrysanthemums will be strong soon “Yes.

They’ll be strong this coming year” (193). Being a woman is most difficult in life. For Elisa, being treated as the complete opposite of how she wishes to be treated is what frustrates her. However, she is a woman, and the fact that she responds with innate appropriateness is what frustrates her the most. Henry (her husband) tells her that he wants to take her to dinner and a show in the Salina’s, which clearly surprises her, he jokes about taking her to see fights and she responds to him as any woman would “Oh no.
I wouldn’t like fights” (193). Elisa doesn’t realize her husband is being sarcastic in that particular suggestion “Just fooling, Elisa” (193). Henry feels because she is a woman she won’t be interested or perhaps he is suggesting that she appears to be too masculine, checking to see if she is still womanly. Elisa is also frustrated with her abilities underestimated, as Henry noted her excellent garden, he commented “I wish you’d work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big” (193).
She perceives this comment as if he is saying to her that she cannot multi-task “Her eyes sharpened. “Maybe I could do it, too” ” (193). When the stranger is at her home he tells her that the road is no good life for a woman, Elisa is offended by this because she feels as if she is just as capable as he is of living on the road and sharpening scissors and repairing pots as he does “You might be surprised to have a rival some time. I can sharpen scissors, too. And I can beat the dents out of the little pots. I could show you what a woman might do” (197).
Elisa’s hopes of going out into the real world are implied to the stranger when he tells her of a customer who loves chrysanthemums and she agrees to give him some for his customer. The chrysanthemums become symbolic of her hopes, “I’ll put them in a flower pot, and you can take them right with you” (196). The pot that the chrysanthemums are placed in is described as “a bright new pot” symbolizing a new life. As the stranger was leaving with her chrysanthemums, she reiterated to him to keep the sand damp so the plants wouldn’t die, in other words, take care of her.
As he left, she said good-bye to her life and assumed a brighter direction “that’s a bright direction, there’s a glowing there (197). Realizing how many undesirable relationships she’s had or maybe the impassionate marriage she is in, Elisa reflects on her need to be desired as she explains to the stranger the meaning of “planting hands” “Everything goes right down into your fingertips. You watch your fingers work. They do it themselves. You can feel how it is. They pick and pick the buds.
They never make a mistake” (196), then she emphasizes “Your fingers and the plant. You can feel it. When you’re like that you can’t do anything wrong. ” (196). The stranger knew what Elisa was saying to him, so he tried to tell her of how he felt, but the pride in her took over and she did not let him finish, only to assume what he was going to say to satisfy herself. Admiring herself in the mirror, Elisa wonders how attractive she is in the eyes of a man. Her interlude, so to speak, with the stranger made her feel attractive, sexy even.
She became exited about her new “spirit” and dressed in her nicest garments, fixed her hair and put on lipstick. With a feeling of revival, Elisa waits for her husband on the porch with a new inspiration to become more than a “woman. ” Wearing her emotions on her face, Henry approaches and notices the difference in his wife, “Henry stopped short and looked at her. ” Then he responded with words of affirmation “Why-Why, Elisa. You look so nice! ” (198). “I mean you look different, strong and happy. ” (198). Elisa clearly stated that she only felt strong and did not say she was happy.
Her strength is what she relied on and her new journey on the road is what revived her soul. Elisa found that the stranger who desired her and took some part of her with him had threw her (her chrysanthemums) out on the road. She then knew that changing her life wouldn’t be so easy, yet she wouldn’t give up. She will have wine with her husband to remove the tension of her marriage and maybe pursue intimacy, which she is clearly missing, and she will maybe attend a fight as if it that will make her feel like a new woman “Do any women ever go the fights? (199).
When Henry tells her that women go, she changes her mind, because she would not be the first or only woman at the fights. The wine that they’ll have at dinner will definitely help her to forget about her day and her life for the time being. Elisa feels as if she’s missed out on a real life. Being a woman in her days has been hard for her, sheltered, sexually repressed and minimal limitations as a woman has been mentally tormenting.
Trying to stay strong has took a toll on her and the chrysanthemums that she raises every year, stronger and stronger, longer and longer, gives her hope for a better year just like them. The buds or years of her life have been picked off and cut down, but she has managed to grow them back strong. Elisa feels as if time is running out for her and her frustrations and profound sorrow over takes her and she can no longer hold back her tears “She turned up her coat collar so he could not see that she was crying weakly-like and old woman” (199).

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