Sample Book Review on “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck

“The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck

In the story “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck, the marital relationships at this time of the century were characterized by dissatisfaction and dispassionate marriages. He brings out the character of women at the time through the actor Elisa Allen who he says due to the fact that she received no attention and affection from her husband who was very busy working in the cattle farm, Elisa enjoyed growing and nourishing her chrysanthemums. Steinbeck uses this term to refer to the character of Elisa as a way of response for not receiving any attention from her husband. At first, following the disaffection and lack of attention, Steinbeck describes Elisa as follows, “ Her face lean and strong…Her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume, a man’s black hat pulled low…clod-hopper shoes…completely covered by a big corduroy apron…”(206-207). However, this does not last for long since she eventually turns to “her chrysanthemums” following the neglect. The husband eventually notices the change in her and says, “I wish you’d work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big” (Steinbeck 207).

In this era, a woman in the society was seen as the weaker gender compared to the man. Women had no place in the society and all the responsibilities were left to the hands of men. Women had no voice and they were not only neglected but also muted. Elisa as the character in the story becomes tired of the dispassionate marriage and the neglect that she decides to turn to a stranger who at least showed her a little affection while the husband was away. To her, this stranger’s appearance was not the best but she had to do this so as to give Henry her husband something to fix. Eventually, she becomes confident and starts even doing a complete makeover. “After a while she began to dress, slowly. She put on her newest underclothing and her nicest stockings and the dress which was the symbol of her prettiness.” (Steinbeck 212). This portrays the difficulty that prevailed women in their quest for equality in the society.

In these early days, women characters were characterized as weak and meek, and hence incapable of making any crucial decisions in the society leave alone inheriting the powerful position in the society. Even the cultural hierarchies at this time rendered women as weak and incapable since men were always assigned the hard tasks and women the simple ones. Fighting for equality was not an easy task for women and most of them did not make it. They crumbled whenever they tried taking that direction and eventually lost hope of succeeding just like Elisa in the story where “She turned up her coat collar so he could not see that she was crying weakly – like an old woman” (Steinbeck 213). She had lost hope; she was not willing to continue being persistent since this battle did not seem to end. During this era, it took women’s patience and perseverance to go through these hard times. They learnt a way of assimilating the masculine method of communication and used them fully to their advantage though it was not the best way to win this battle.

They had to eventually stop relying on men to be noticed. They had to find their own feminine ways of fighting for their space in the society. This would later turn to be a break through to their problem since men started treating them with a different perspective. However, they were not in this fight alone since different cultural anthropologists had come for their rescue through publishing of different research studies regarding women mistreatment and neglect, and at the same time stating the importance of gender equality in the society. It took long for the society to appreciate them but it never took forever. The society saw the need to eradicate the masculine adjective and eventually replace it with the feminine adjective that was more polite, soft and meek.

Works Cited

Steinbeck, John. “The Chrysanthemums.” Literature and the Writing Process. Ed. Elizabeth

McMahan, Susan Day, and Robert Funk. 2nd Ed. New York: Macmillan, 1989.