Gender Roles In The Chrysanthemums

1784 Words8 Pages
In “The Chrysanthemums” which was written in the decade of the 30s, John Steinbeck has etched a female character who averts conformity to male expectations of femininity. Historically, the expectations imposed restrictions on women as to how they should have accepted their roles and functioned within the prescribed rules. In this respect, Steinbeck has broken the gender codes, and by doing so he has drawn a woman protagonist who clearly defies the conventional mindset. Elisa, therefore, has become “the representative of the feminine ideal of equality and its inevitable defeat” (Sweet 213). The defeat is conceded by Elisa because her female subjective experiences are circumscribed and simultaneously her masculine tendencies are ignored by her…show more content…
In “a hard-swept looking little house, with hard-polished windows” lives the couple (Steinbeck 1). The husband, Henry Allen, is a ranch farmer. The wife, Elisa Allen, is a housewife. The nondescript details of the house resemble the way the characters are described. But this description is certainly a giveaway, for it reveals the domestic and gender politics at work in the fabric of the story. Interestingly though, Steinbeck paints a very manly sketch of the wife, not distinctively feminine by the standards of his time, whose face looks “eager and mature and handsome” (Steinbeck 1). Besides, her actions resonate with manly fortitude and sparks of energy as is evidenced in the line: “(E)ven her work with the scissors was over-eager, over-powerful. The chrysanthemum stems seemed too small and easy for her energy” (Steinbeck 1). Elisa’s gardening attire disguises her feminine grace. She seems to have found comfort in the heavy gardening costume, man’s black hat, clod-hopper shoes, and big corduroy apron (Steinbeck 1). The image of the gloves that Elisa puts on and puts off in the course of the story assumes an important motif showing the protagonist’s wavering between masculine and feminine tendencies. This significantly rings with dual implications. When she puts on the glove along with the heavy gardening clothes she seems to use them as cloaks to conceal…show more content…
Their conversation bespeaks of the constrained nature of their marital relationship lacking mutual understanding and admiration for each other. There is not enough exchange of ideas, opinions, or sentiments between them in the story that reveals the paucity of depth in their emotional and intellectual bonding. Henry is evidently hesitant in acknowledging Elisa’s flair for gardening, although he laconically lets out: “I wish you’d work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big” (Steinbeck 2). This sounds as if Henry recognized a fellow comrade’s forte. Elisa, in her reply, enthuses over her skill: “May be I could do it, too. I have a gift with things” (Steinbeck 2). Ironically, Henry’s next reaction dampens her spirit as he retracts his compliment to Elisa saying condescendingly: “Well, it sure works with flowers” (Steinbeck 2), implying gardening to be exclusively meant for women. Henry then shifts the conversation to fights which according to men is not a realm for womanly pursuits and then to movies - more of a domain for women and their entertainment. Henry never suspects that Elisa might have a masculine sensibility for which she is keen on men’s game like fights. He imposes these boundaries and limits on Elisa who meekly withdraws herself into submitting to the societal norms. Henry never levels up to her emotional maturity. This explains Elisa’s taciturnity and apathy toward her husband.
Open Document