“The Chrysanthemums” tells the tale of the upcoming war and the role women were to play in it. The story focuses on the life of Elisa Allen, the main character of the story. Elisa is married and busies herself with her garden of chrysanthemums. The story is embedded with gender issues particularly the role that women were expected to play.
Elisa was very hard working. More importantly, she wanted to show that she was capable of handling more important responsibilities than what she currently had. She tries to penetrate the roles of men and enter the male-dominated society. She attempts to dress masculine. She is described with her, “man’s black hat pulled low down over her eyes, clod-hopper shoes, and a figured print dress almost completely covered by a big corduroy apron…” She is eager to prove that she is capable of roles given to men by wanting to learn about things that men knew of life prize-fighting. However, her attempts are turned back most especially by her husband. Even the beggar thinks that she should not involve her self with men’s duties because as he said, “It ain’t the right kind of life for a woman.”
Elisa’s life was typical of what were expected of women during the time. Women were expected to marry, have children, and take care of the family. They were not allowed to live beyond such life. Gender roles were clearly defined in Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums.” Women were portrayed as lacking the strength to take on the roles of men. Their work was confined to the house. In spite of Elisa’s efforts to get out of the box that has been built around her, she was not permitted to do so. Her husband, the people around her, and society in general could not allow it for it was well beyond what women were expected to do.