Chrysanthemums By John Steinbeck John Steinbeck wrote The Chrysanthemums in 1938. Steinbeck, as in many of his novels and short stories, depicts the life of poor, hard working people. In The Chrysanthemums, Steinbeck writes about a farmers wife living in California. The couple lives on a farm, as many individuals did in that time. Steinbeck describes the physical and mental hardships of families living off the land. In the short story, The Chrysanthemums, Elisa is constantly with held from life because she is a woman.
“On every side it (the valley) sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot.” Under the lid was Salinas Valley, the home of Henry and Elisa Allen. Henry was a farmer who made a fair amount of money from his crops and stock. Elisa was Henrys wife; she had the hobby of taking care of her Chrysanthemums and the chore of being Henrys wife. In Elisas garden, the Chrysanthemums grew with the work of her hands and the care of her heart. She seems to enjoy her garden immensely, but actually was trapped in it. She was trapped, because she felt that the only thing she could do was tend her garden.
Henry tells Elisa that her flowers were very good last year and some of the yellow flowers were 10 inches across. Henry told Elisa, “I wish youd work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big.” Elisa said, “Maybe I could do it, too. Ive a gift with things, all right.” Henry changes the subject and starts talking about his livestock that he sold. Henry would not let her try her green thumb on the orchard, because of this, Elisa started to feel the pain of being a woman One day as Elisa was tending her garden, a wagon was passing on the road. Elisa looked up expecting the wagon to pass, but it did not. The wagon pulled up the driveway. Painted on the side of the wagon in sloppy words was, “Pots, pans, knifes, sisors, lawn mores, Fixed”.
A big, hairy man got out of the wagon and offered to fix her scissors for her. Elisa claimed she had nothing to be fixed. In hope of getting work, the man complimented her flower garden, and as he had planned, the two started talking. They talked about his being on the road. Elisa asked him about where he sleeps and where he lives. “Right in the wagon, maam.
Rain or shine Im dry as a cow in there.” Elisa said, “It must be very nice. I wish a woman could do such things.” The man replied, “It aint the right kind of life for a woman.” This is one instance where Elisa feels trapped as a woman. Elisa asked, “How do you know? How can you tell?” Elisa does not get an answer. He quickly changed the subject and started talking about her flowerbed. She told the man that the reason the Chrysanthemums were so big, is that her mother had planter hands that made plants grow and the hands were passed on to Elisa. He stated that someone down the road needed some Chrysanthemums. She was happy to share her garden; she put a Chrysanthemum bulb into a pot and handed it to the fixall man.
Elisa gave him special instructions for the care of the flowers. After this, Elisa decides to let him work, on a few aluminum saucepans. Elisa pays the man and he leaves. Now that the man was gone; Elisa ran to the house, tore off her soiled clothes, and took a hot shower. She scrubbed her body, hard and long, with a pumice stone.
She needed to rid herself of the fix-all man. Elisa got out of the shower and looked at herself in the mirror. She looked at her naked body, sucking in her stomach and pushing out her chest. Elisa then put on her nicest under garments. She also put on her newest, favorite dress; the symbol of her prettiness.
Soon, Henry comes in the room and says, “Whywhy, Elisa you look so nice.” Elisa replied, “Nice? You think I look nice? What do you mean by nice?” Henry replied, “I dont know. I mean you look different, strong, and happy.” The couple leaves the house to go out to eat. As they were driving down the road, they pass the fix all man. She looked back and saw her flower bulbs and sands lying on the road. The man kept the flowerpot.
Elisa turned to the window and wept bitterly. Elisa then asked Henry, “Henry can we have wine for dinner?” Then she implied that she might want to go to the fights. Henry had never seen her act this way. Elisa turned up her coat collar so that Henry would not see her crying weaklylike an old woman. Elisa was a woman who had many conflicts.
She was living in her flower garden. Everything that Elisa does not have is put into her garden. Her husband would not let her do any “mans” work on the farm. The fixall man did not even acknowledge her want of being out on the road. He said it was a “mans” job.
Elisa was repressed and had no way of expressing her feelings, except through the flowers in her garden. She wanted something new to make her feel like a woman. She scrubbed herself so deeply in the shower in hope of cleaning herself anything that was not lady like. Elisa had no where to turn. At the end of The Chrysanthemums, Elisa excepts herself as an old woman.
Elisa gave up. She did not care anymore. Elisa will probably be living her life through the Chrysanthemums, until the day she dies.