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The Character of Elisa Allen in the Chrysanthemums, Essay Example

Pages: 1

Words: 750

Essay

Several critics who have read “The chrysanthemums” have determine that Steinbeck used this story as an expression his own frustration.. Steinbeck may or may not have been frustrated, however,  his character Elisa Allen is frustrated with her life and deep down she suppresses who she really is.

The story begins with a description of the geographical location; in a valley clouded over by the pre-winter fog.  “ The high gray-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world. On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot.”   The description of the valley seems to be a description of Elisa’s life; she is caught and held hostage in the valley.  Usually a valley is a fertile place, but juxtaposition with Elisa’s life, it seems arid.  “She was thirty-five. Her face was lean and strong and her eyes were as clear as water. Her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume, a man’s black hat pulled low down over her eyes, clod-hopper shoes, a figured print dress almost completely covered by a big corduroy apron.“

Elisa Allen’s life is one of  desolation; her attitude implies that this is not the life she wants, however, she accepts it, and her one joy is tending to her cherished chrysanthemums.  Her chrysanthemums garden is the most meaningful thing in her life, it is her oasis of happiness in the valley.   Elisa lacks something that perhaps even she is not able to name.  The formality with which she speaks with her husband shows that there is no comrade between them, despite the fact that the husband seems to want something more.  “Henry put on his joking tone. ‘There’s fights tonight. How’d you like to go to the fights?”’   She is not able to rise to the occasion because she does not hear the joking in Henry’s voice’s.  Even when he compliments her, her attitude does not change.   “Good, ‘she repeated.’ “Oh, yes. That will be good.”  The sentence suggests that she realizes that she needs to soften up her answer a little, show a bit of appreciation.

There is nothing in the story that hints that Elisa has children, maybe not having children is  what missing from her empty life, and the reason she is curt with Henry.  The chrysanthemums is the alternative for what is lacking in her world.  She treats her chrysanthemums like children.  She guards her flowers from every side by the wire fence that protected her flower garden from cattle and dogs and chickens.  The chrysanthemums are the one bright spot in Elisa otherwise uneventful life.  They are the cause she lets her guard down and allows herself to be fooled by a traveling tinker.

Elisa does not think much of this tinker, she notices that he is dirty and unkempt, all she wanted was for him to go away.  This tinker is quite a sales man; he know how to penetrate Elisa’s hardness by  going through her flowers.  There is nothing attractive about this man, yet, as he speaks about her flowers she starts to warm up to him, so much so he awakens sexual feelings in her.  These feelings stayed with her all afternoon.  It must have been a long time since she thought of herself as a woman, “she stood in front of a mirror in her bedroom and looked at her body. She tightened her stomach and threw out her chest. She turned and looked over her shoulder at her back.”   She to enjoys Henry’s comment, but she wishes that he would be a little more explicit.  Elisa feels like a woman for one evening, the tinker takes her back to the smothering hidden desires that she keeps deep within her.  It is an Elisa that Henry has never seen, She surprises him by asking for wine with their dinner.  In the end she discovers that even with her strength, she is delicate and weak as she accepts the fact that the tinker played her.

As the story begins, one views Elisa as a strong non-nonsense woman, one who would not give in to laughter or idle talk, as a matter of fact she would not give in to idleness either.  The story continues and and one sees a different Elisa, an Elisa who can be a lady, has sexual desires, and even enjoy fine dinning.   The story ends and the strong Elisa does not seem so strong anymore.

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