Gender Roles and Expectations in The Chrysanthemums

The following is a literature review based on gender roles and expectations within the works of John Steinbeck, The Chrysanthemums. At first, the writer tells of a woman, Elisa Allen, working on her Chrysanthemums, which is a rare type of flower. Elisa is working on her flower garden while the husband, Henry Allen, is busy chatting with two men, whom he later explains to his wife as his former business counterparts. This is prior to his departure to the hills with his partner to roundup the steers. The woman is presented as a skillful garden attendant while the man takes care of the family business. Atop that, the man is responsible for the cattle, but the woman has no responsibility in this role.

Just before Henry rides up the hills, he suggests taking Elisa out for dinner as a means of celebrating his latest business conquest. Elisa gratefully obliges to the invite, and Henry puts it out as a joke that it is difficult for a woman to attend fight matches. Thus, the man is seen as the leader and the woman is expected to follow. This is because Henry makes the suggestion, which is more of an invite to his wife. This exemplifies that there is a clear rift between the two genders presented in the story. However, the woman is not belittled by that fact as she shows joy to oblige to the invite and replies to the husband, “Oh yes. That will be good”.  

Following the departure of her husband to the hills, Elisa gets an unexpected visit from an ironsmith who claims to possess more than sharpening skills. At first, he gets the attention of Elisa by showering her with praises of her works. Deep into the conversation between Elisa and the stranger, the writer expresses the woman as the weak one of the two genders. This is after Elisa suggests that it is possible for a woman to carry out similar work as that of the ironsmith. Unfortunately, the wagon man suggested that a woman would be too weak to carry out the work, which is full of fear and loneliness. Thus, it is obvious that the woman is portrayed as a weak gender as she would not withstand fear and persevere loneliness over the long journeys.

The literature works presents a woman as a weak gender yet still offers the much-needed support at home. In addition, the woman in the story is skillful and strong enough to withhold guilt. An example well displayed when they site the stranger’s caravan from a distance and she starts sobbing quietly. This is because she felt guilty for accommodating the male visitor while the husband was away. On the other hand, the man is presented as the leader in the family and takes on ‘manly jobs’ that the woman would not execute. All these differences portray a vivid difference between the two genders in the story.