Sexuality in John Steinbeck's The Chrysanthemums Essay

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Sexuality in Steinbeck's The Chrysanthemums

Reading over this excellent story once more, I am again filled with

the same emotion (if it can be called that) that I experienced when first

reading it. Steinbeck planned for that. In a letter to George Albee in

1933, Steinbeck comments on this story and his interest in Albee's opinion

of it. "...It is entirely different and is designed to strike without the

reader's knowledge. I mean he reads it casually and after it is finished

feels that something profound has happened to him although he does not know

what nor how." I knew after reading this, that Steinbeck is truly a marvel.

It is one thing to have enough luck to leave your reader's with
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He doesn't quite catch

onto the eroticism of the story, and in stead, chooses to focus on the more

crude innuendoes. "...The chrysanthemum stalks seem to be phallic symbols,

and Eliza's "over-eager" snipping of them suggests castration. Then in the

"rooting" bed, Eliza herself becomes masculine, inserting the "little crisp

shoots" into open, receptive furrows" (Hughes 235). He goes on explaining

how the shoots became Eliza's children and how she communicates with the

tinker on how to care for them. This makes perfect sense, but Eliza seems

more concerned with the loss of her own life. For too long, the

chrysanthemums have served in place of children. She is looking into

reclaiming her own life, not finding another electric connection to live

her life through. Hughes seems to ignore this, because all women by nature

want to procreate and have children, right? The androgyny of Eliza's

character, however, would suggest otherwise. She isn't as pulled by that

biological need as Hughes would suggest.

Elizabeth E. McMahan is strong in saying that although people will

agree that "The Chrysanthemums" is a story of a woman's frustration, no one

can adequately explain why. McMahan attributes the frustration to her

unhappiness with her marriage. She explains that although she and Henry

have a relationship of "mutual respect," he has no gift
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