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The Chrysanthemums

The Chrysanthemums


by John Steinbeck

The Chrysanthemums Theme of Women and Femininity

Hi. You're a woman in a Steinbeck short story. Sucks to be you.

We're not kidding. Being a woman in the world of "The Chrysanthemums" is no picnic. You have to keep house and look pretty, all while spending much of the day alone and cut off from the excitement of the outside world. Womanhood translates into being trapped, and it doesn't look like anyone's about to stage a prison break.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. Where in the text is Elisa most feminine? Where does she move away from traditional notions of womanhood? What standards do we use to evaluate her level of femininity?
  2. What do you think Henry thinks a woman should be? How do you know? Is he, as her main squeeze, complicit in Elisa's loneliness and isolation?         
  3. If we agree with the common critical reading of the text as Steinbeck's stand against society's mistreatment of women, what exactly do you think that critique is? Where in the text is Steinbeck making his opinion clear? Or is he not being clear at all?  
  4. Is Elisa doomed to unhappiness because she's a woman? What in the story makes you think she is or isn't?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Despite what critics say, "The Chrysanthemums" only perpetuates society's stereotyping of women. Elisa is passive, weak, and takes no responsibility for her unfortunate circumstances.

What controls Elisa as a woman is not society, but fear. She's simply too afraid to break out of her role in the house, and lacks the bravery necessary to take responsibility for her life.

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