This is a Man’s World: “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck
“The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck is a short story that depicts the frustrations of a woman in a male dominated society. In the short story, Elisa Allen only feels powerful when planting her chrysanthemums. Since there was a limit to what she can do based on her gender, Elisa is sexually repressed and it shows through the work she does with her flowers and basic chores like cleaning that are over done in the house. Because of a woman’s determination to be viewed as equal, she will go to any length or limit to prove herself to a man.
The short story begins with Elisa in her garden, and the description of what she is wearing is a clear sign that she wants to cover up her feminine qualities. She has on a man’s hat that is pulled very low, and a big corduroy apron that almost covers her figured print dress. Her intention is to fool anyone from afar into thinking she is a man by covering up all her feminine characteristics. By way of illustration, Steinbeck calls this her “gardening costume” which confirms that she is hiding her true self. To wear a costume is to pretend to be something you are not, hence Elisa wearing that outfit while she gardens. Steinbeck also describes her face as strong and handsome, which are usually descriptions used for men. Elisa desperately wants to fit in a man’s world.
Elisa’s garden of chrysanthemums is surrounded by a wire fence. The fence is the barrier to protect her flower garden from the cattle, dogs, and chickens. In retrospect the fence is a symbol of the life she leads, and how she is fenced in from the real world which is a man’s world. She longs to break free of the barrier that holds her, but Elisa knows there is no place for her out there in the real world.
She prides herself on her work in her garden, especially the chrysanthemums. Her work is done...