Character Analysis Of Elisa Allen In The Chrysanthemums By Steinbeck

1301 words - 6 pages

Many readers who analyze Steinbeck's short story, "The Chrysanthemums", feel Elisa's flowers represent her repressed sexuality, and her anger and resentment towards men. Some even push the symbolism of the flowers, and Elisa's masculine actions, to suggest she is unable to establish a true relationship between herself and another. Her masculine traits and her chrysanthemums are enough to fulfill her entirely. This essay will discuss an opposing viewpoint. Instead, it will argue that Elisa's chrysanthemums, and her masculine qualities are natural manifestations of a male dominated world. Pertinent examples from "The Chrysanthemums" will be given in an attempt to illustrate that ...view middle of the document...

If he gave her any personal praise, as a woman of distinct qualities (one who was vital to the farm's survival), he might be empowering her. Thus, he keeps his praise for her superficial skills, growing flowers. In this way, Henry frustrates Elisa by not seeing into her true character. The flowers represent Elisa trying to find some way of escaping from her frustrated and repressed husband, not from her own sexual frustration.

Since Elisa is a woman with more than superficial qualities, in addition to being a good worker, she seeks a way to fit into this world she feels is limited to her. She feels that it is limited because it is being dominated and interpreted by men. Thus, she tries to seek out some understanding from a stranger who is looking to find "fix-it" work. Many readers see Elisa as being cold and frigid towards the stranger at first appearance. Yet, this is quite possibly her intelligent reaction from being experienced with the realities of life. This scene portrays a "combat of wits in which she shows herself a person of right feeling, one who doesn't let her charitable instincts run away with her" (Beach, 312). Here we have a strange man, and men have proven to Elisa they have a limited understanding of a woman's gentler qualities. Her reaction shows intelligence, good instincts, and is revealing of the period in which the story takes place. How many of us would be quick to open ourselves up to a strange man, one whom we knew was trying to sell us his skill, especially if we were a woman alone on a farm? The time period was one in which many people could fool others with phony claims. Many critics feel the man knows a lot about human nature and is hard-bitten, but it is Elisa who is cautious at first.

Elisa finally opens herself up to this man, and as usual she is wounded when she does reveal her vulnerability. First, she is taken advantage of by a man who may not be well-rounded in human nature, but who certainly knows how to use people. The salesman tells Elisa she grows flowers much better than a woman he knows who grows the same flowers. Therefore, she is more fertile and abundant. This is where Elisa softens and succumbs to finding the man some improvised repair work. The difference with this situation is that Elisa, being a woman, is not even aware that this is just another game men use to take advantage of and limit women to their viewpoint. The salesman knows telling a woman she is better than other women will always warm her. Indeed, if Elisa is so cold, could the normal verbal persuasions of someone she is already cautious of, melt her heart?

The salesman melts Elisa's exterior of protection, but...

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