What Is Steinbeck's Central Idea Of The Chrysanthemums

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“The Chrysanthemums,” by John Steinbeck, is a narrative that examines the effects of gender roles. Elisa Allen is a middle aged, married woman who lives on a ranch with her husband Henry. When Henry makes a big sale of his cattle to a meat company, he and Elisa agree to celebrate by traveling into the city to eat dinner together. Elisa encounters a traveling salesman when Henry and his helper leave to gather up the steers. After the encounter with the tinker, Elisa experiences an awakening of her femininity and sexuality. Steinbeck’s central idea suggests women can be confined by, and conditioned to follow, society’s adherence to stereotypical gender roles. Steinbeck uses the round characterization of Elisa to further his central idea. Throughout the narrative, the author tends to characterize Elisa in traditionally masculine terms: “Her face was lean and strong…show more content…
Elisa’s encounter with the tinker is the primary external conflict. When the tinker arrives, Elisa is steadfast in rebutting his attempts to earn her business. When the tinker gains her attention by appealing to her femininity, commenting on her chrysanthemums, Elisa believes they are having a genuine conversation. After Elisa opens up to the tinker, she also combats her internal conflicts of loneliness and the independence that society frowns upon towards women. When Elisa mentions that she wishes women could live a life like the tinker’s, he disagrees with her stating, “It ain’t the right kind of a life for a woman” (1066). The resolution of both the external and internal conflict appears at the end of the story, first, when Elisa realizes the tinker feigned interest in her flowers after seeing them on the side of the road and, secondly, after talking with her husband, Elisa recognizes that her internal conflicts are futile to fight and gives in. Both conflicts support the central idea suggested by
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