Essay on A Woman Bound by Society in Steinbeck's The Chrysanthemums

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A Woman Bound by Society in John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums"

When John Steinbeck's short story "The Chrysanthemums" first appeared in the October 1937 edition of Harper's Magazine (Osborne 479), Franklin D. Roosevelt had just been reelected president. The country was recovering from the Great Depression, unions were developing, and child labor in manufacturing was terminated (Jones 805-6). The first female cabinet member in American history, Frances Perkins, was appointed the Secretary of Labor (Jones 802). She was one of the few women in her time to gain equality in a male-dominated society. For most women, liberation was a bitter fight usually ending in defeat. In "The Chrysanthemums," this struggle for equality is
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When her husband, Henry, comments about her "strong" chrysanthemum crop, Elisa is pleased by the manliness the word implies, but her husband reminds her of her femininity by offering her an evening on the town (Sweet 211). After this conversation with her husband, she goes back to her masculine role of transplanting the flowers.

The next situation involves the tinker. He is to Elisa what the meat buyers were to Henry (Sweet 211). Elisa's first response to the tinker is that of a man, for she resists giving him work (Marcus 56). But as the tinker talks, Elisa's calculated and conscious masculine efforts become more and more feminine (Sweet 212). The tinker then hits her in her vulnerable spot--her chrysanthemums. He pretends to be interested in her love for her flowers. He compares her flowers to a "quick puff of colored smoke" (Steinbeck 333). Elisa's feminine side begins to emerge as she takes off her masculine gloves and hat. She is attracted to the tinker because he represents a world of adventure and freedom that only men enjoy (Renner 306). She allows her emotions to control her and lets go of her masculine side, freeing her central feminine sexuality (Sweet 212). By the time she realizes her feminine emotions, it is too late: "Elisa's desires for equality are now bathed in failure" (Sweet 212). She has allowed herself to become emotional, the trait women possess, whereas men conduct business

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