The Chrysanthemum


‘TheChrysanthemum’ by John Steinbeck

JohnSteinbeck when writing his story “” seem to havewomen concerns at heart. He wrote the story in October 1937, a timewhen America was recovering from the 1930 Great Depression. At thetime, there were few legislative or unions protecting women. Womenwere bound by the society where their main work was looking afterhusbands, children, and homes. There were also fewer women in power,as males dominated the positions. Women had the will to liberatethemselves, but many efforts always ended in defeat. Many of thesewomen ended up frustrated forcing them to accept societies’settings. Steinbeck uses “” to show thestruggles of women towards equality through a female characterreferred to as Elisa Allen. Elisa at the start of the story does notbelieve in the personal, sexual, and social confinement conceptionsset up by society to control women. Her dedication in looking afterher flower farm symbolizes that women are as strong as men. I believethat, Steinbeck was writing the story to showthereaders the miseries and frustrations that women go through inpatriarchal societies.

Themeof Women Suffering and Frustration

Oneof my arguments is that, the main theme in ‘’ iswomen’s suffering and frustration. For example, the storyintroduces Elisa as a frustrated woman, symbolized by her blocked andheavy clothing. She wears these clothes to show masculine qualitiesas opposed to emotional qualities always associated with women(Steinbeck,2014).This introduction is an indication that Elisa is frustrated by theroles given to women by the society. She is doing her best to fitinto masculine areas to divert her mind from the boring life. Anotherincident showing Elisa’s frustration is evident when the Tinkerholds a conversation with her. During the conversation, Elisa lets goof her strong side and allow emotions to control her. Immediately thetinker leaves, Elisa takes a long bathe where she scrubs herself andturns to the feminine world. Even in the today`s society, women aredealing with many frustrations. They are putting much effort toliberate themselves from oppressive cultures, but they always end uplosing to the society. Women in the early years of the 1930s tried tofight for equality, but as symbolized by Elisa, all their effortsalways face an inevitable defeat.

Apartfrom frustrations, woman bounding by the society is making them gothrough many sufferings as evident in . They do muchof the work, but the most beneficiaries are always the men. Womenbattery is present in our today’s society. Men beat up their womenfor no valid reasons. For example, women fear to question theirhusband`s actions to avoid a beating. In the Steinbeck’s story,Elisa is a very intelligent woman, but the society has no place forher. For instance, Henry who is Elisa’s husband does not seem asintelligent as Elisa, but he is the one supporting the wife andmaking business deals. Henry cannot even consider Elisa as an equalpartner. The above situation is evident in the societies today. Manyhusbands do not consider their wives as equal partners even if thewoman is the one who contributed more capital than the man did. Womenare living under men`s mercy, a situation many authors both male andfemale need to address to assist women to attain equality.

Useof Symbols by Steinbeck

Myother argument is that, use of symbols is the main motif used bySteinbeck throughout the novel to help in bringing out the truemeaning of the story. One of the symbols I believe Steinbeck hasutilized in ‘s’ is chrysanthemums. Similar toElisa, the flowers are strong and thriving. Additionally, just asElisa’s house, flowerbeds are tidy. She compares herself with theflowers. The tinker rejects the flowers by throwing them on the roada show of how the society rejects women as nothing more than homekeepers and mothers. People consider women as lesser contributors toworld’s development than men. They are taken as decorative objects,just like Elisa’s flowers. Salinas Valley is another symbol in thestory whereby Steinbeck likens it to a closed pot. The closingsymbolizes how Elisa is trapped in a male-dominated society. Theclosing of the valley also prevents sunshine from penetrating thevalley (Steinbeck,2014).In the world, people associate the sunshine with happiness. Lack ofsunshine penetration is an indication that Elisa is not happy withhis husband being the one to control her. She believes that, womenneed freedom for them to be happy. Similarly, many women in oursociety are unhappy. Men’s control has denied them personal,social, and even sexual fulfillment.


Steinbeckhas done a great work in ‘’ in addressing thefrustrations and sufferings women are going through in themale-dominated society. He uses symbols like Elisa and flowers toshow the plight of a general woman in the society. For many years,women have lived frustrating and miserable lives under men’scontrol. Men make a decision for them, and anytime they tryliberating themselves, their effort goes in vain. Authors need to putmore emphasis on women suffrage in their works to help women wintheir liberation war. As evident from Steinbeck`s story, womensuffering did not start yesterday, but even in the 1930s, it wasstill there. Women during those days also tried to fight for theirliberation, but their wars ended in defeat. The societies today havetried to pass bills and legislative to help women attain equality,but people have not embraced the idea equality with the zeal itrequires. Many African and Arab countries still believe thatsubmissiveness is woman`s duty, a trend that demands authors totarget African and Arab audiences in order to end woman suffrage inthe societies.


Steinbeck,J. (2014).&nbspTheChrysanthemums.Penguin UK.