53 pages 1 hour read

John Steinbeck

The Chrysanthemums

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1937

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Story Analysis

Analysis: “The Chrysanthemums”

Though it was published in 1937, “The Chrysanthemums” is full of modern sentiments. At the time, the United States was recovering from the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt had been re-elected as president, and the very first female cabinet member had been appointed. Women were fighting for equality in a male-dominated society, and many of those women lost their fights. The character of protagonist Elisa Allen demonstrates the frustration of being a capable and energetic woman in a world where women’s abilities and needs were generally disregarded and repressed. The story is told from the third-person limited perspective, with an unnamed narrator following Elisa’s actions.

When the reader is first introduced to Elisa, she is working in her flower garden. Steinbeck’s description of Elisa shows the kind of woman she is. She is wearing a man’s hat, large shoes, heavy leather gloves, and an apron full of sharp tools. This description highlights her masculine attributes and intentionally plays down her femininity. The narrator says, “her figure looked blocked and heavy” (1). She is also observant (she watches her husband converse with two businessmen), organized, and efficient. Yet Elisa is not fully satisfied by her work in the flower garden.