Feminist Perspective of John Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums Essay

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A Feminist Perspective of John Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums

John Steinbeck, in his short story "The Chrysanthemums" depicts the trials of a woman attempting to gain power in a man's world. Elisa Allen tries to define the boundaries of her role as a woman in such a closed society. While her environment is portrayed as a tool for social repression, it is through nature in her garden where Elisa gains and shows off her power. As the story progresses, Elisa has trouble extending this power outside of the fence that surrounds her garden. In the end, Elisa learns but does not readily accept, that she possesses a feminine power weak for the time, not the masculine one she had tried so hard to achieve through its imitation.

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They look at a tractor and smoke, manly things, as they conclude their man's work. Just as their environment surrounds all persons, fences surround animals and men surround women.

As she looks out to these men, we look at Elisa. Although she is doing the "feminine" work of gardening, she is dressed like a man. She wore a black hat low on her forehead to cover her hair, thick leather gloves covered her hands, and clodhopper shoes covering her small woman's feet. A "big corduroy apron" covered the dress making "her figure look blocked and heavy" (396). Unconsciously, as she looks through her fence at the men talking business, she is trying to cover up her feminine qualities. She longs to be in their position and possess their characteristics.

As she does her gardening, something she enjoys and excels in, "Her face was lean and strong… eager and mature and handsome" (396). Her use of the scissors is described as "over-eager" and "over-powerful" (397). All of these characteristics are usually masculine adjectives. But in this case they describe a woman attempting or at least imagining living as a part of such a man's world.

Yet Elisa's power is not used for "masculine" activities; in fact, her power is derived from a feminine source, nature. Mother Nature, a female, controls the environment. This female power is part of matriarchal lineage since Elisa'a mother also "could stick anything in the

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