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John Steinbeck

             John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums", at first glance, seems to be a story about a woman and her passion for gardening. After the initial reading, however, this story's plot screams feminism. In Steinbeck's portrayal of the central character Elisa Allen, Elisa's appearance, actions, and speech depict the frustration women felt in the 1930's. These actions and feelings are Steinbeck's examples of the external and internal conflicts of one woman, Elisa, trying and failing to emasculate herself in this male-dominated society.
             The external conflict is evident from Steinbeck's introduction of the protagonist Elisa. He describes her figure as blocked and heavy, because she is wearing heavy gloves, heavy shoes, a man's black hat, and a big apron that hides her print dress. Her home is described as being hard-swept and hard-polished (Steinbeck 176). These descriptions give one the feeling that Elisa is a woman unhappy with the traditional female role and is attempting to extend her abilities into masculine areas. Elisa is a strong woman because of her manly qualities. Her masculinity shines through because of the way she covers up. The squatting position she takes to work in her garden is not at all the feminine way. Kneeling was the understood position for a true lady. Elisa "shoves the thick scissors in her apron pocket" again, not the delicate way a woman would have done it. Elisa does not seem to cultivate her chrysanthemums in a way that is gentle and loving. She is exhibiting her masculine traits. There is a feminine part of her, however, wanting to emerge. Elisa is wearing the print dress while working in her garden, and protecting her feminine hands from becoming rough by wearing heavy gloves. .
             The first time Steinbeck gives one a glimpse into Elisa's internal conflicts is a situation with her husband, Henry. He walks over to her in the flower garden and says, "You"ve got a strong new crop coming.

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