The Chrysanthemums

“The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck is a story about a woman in southern California who looks for fulfillment in her gardening, but secretly longs for more in her life. The story details one afternoon in her life, including an encounter with a tinker who plays on her love of her flowers to convince her to create work for him. She allows herself to be taken in temporarily by his wiles and his claim that he knows another gasrdener who wouold appreciate her work, only to be disappointed later to discover that he has taken the flowers just a little way down the road before discarding them. The story is also about Elisa’s wistfulness about doing something with her life and the lack of opportunity for women to do certain things.In the very first paragraph of the story, Steinbeck sets the scene, defining the Salinas Valley as Elisa’s prison. “The high gray-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world.

”  Though the day of the story it is the weather that cuts her off from the rest of the world,  generally Elisa views it as the fact that she is a woman and the reality of her life that keeps her from the expansive dreams of the ngiht sky and the open road.The paragraph that begins with Elisa watching the business dealings of her husband is another indication that she longs for more in her life. That she dresses in a manly manner when tending her flowers is more indication that she sees the world as belonging to men and the need to be more manly to succeed in it.

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In the paragraph about her over-eagerness at cutting the flowers, we learn the Elisa has a great deal of energy and interest to be devoted to something, but that she has been taught by society that her only option is gardening. She takes pride in the garden, but wants more. And the paragraph during which her husband says she should take such an interest in his orchard and grow him 10-inch apples,  Elisa is at first encouraged and then humiliated to discover that he probably would not let her actually work in the orchard, that he is merely humoring her. Steinbeck employs this teasing of a better life option again later in the story when her husband asks her to go to the fights, expecting that as a woman she would have no interest in the fights. To Elisa, it is another notice that she cannot be free to enjoy life as she wants to because she is a woman. 

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