Reading over this excellent story once more, I am again filled with the same emotion (if it can be called that) that I experienced when first reading it. Steinbeck planned for that. In a letter to George Albee in 1933, Steinbeck comments on this story and his interest in Albees opinion of it. … It is entirely different and is designed to strike without the readers knowledge. I mean he reads it casually and after it is finished feels that something profound has happened to him although he does not know what nor how. I knew after reading this, that Steinbeck is truly a marvel.
It is one thing to have enough luck to leave your readers with this sense after theyve read something of yours, but to have it happen to them when youve actually planned it! This is incredible. I was not the only person feel what Steinbeck had planned. And in that group, I was not the only one to want to pick apart this story to find out why I felt this way, what he intended me to feel, and what his story meant taking all things into consideration. when looking at various criticisms, I found a division line that could be made between the sexes.
Most women agreed with me and felt the sexual tension apparent in the story. This sexual tension was quiet and sensual. The only men that picked up on this picked out some overtly sexual innuendoes and chose to ignore the subtleties as Elizas mood changes and tone of voice. The other men attributed any sexual tension to Elizas need for children, which is a valid point, but it ignores too many other things in the story to fit it well. I found the words of R. S. Hughes to be a little trite. He seemed unable to grasp some uniquely feminine emotions.
He doesnt quite catch onto the eroticism of the story, and in stead, chooses to focus on the more crude innuendoes. … The chrysanthemum stalks seem to be phallic symbols, and Elizas over-eager snipping of them suggests castration. Then in the rooting bed, Eliza herself becomes masculine, inserting the little crisp shoots into open, receptive furrows (Hughes 235). He goes on explaining how the shoots became Elizas children and how she communicates with the tinker on how to care for them. This makes perfect sense, but Eliza seems more concerned with the loss of her own life.
For too long, the chrysanthemums have served in place of children. She is looking into reclaiming her own life, not finding another electric connection to live her life through. Hughes seems to ignore this, because all women by nature want to procreate and have children, right? The androgyny of Elizas character, however, would suggest otherwise. She isnt as pulled by that biological need as Hughes would suggest. Elizabeth E. McMahan is strong in saying that although people will agree that The Chrysanthemums is a story of a womans frustration, no one can adequately explain why.
McMahan attributes the frustration to her unhappiness with her marriage. She explains that although she and Henry have a relationship of mutual respect, he has no gift for words and no true understanding of her. McMahan explains that this is the reason for Elizas over eager tendencies toward work in the cultivating of her plants and the care she puts into the house — it is referred to as Steinbeck as hard-swept with hard-polished windows. McMahan picks up on the fact that Henry and Eliza are caught in a situation of comfort, where he is not even close to being on her emotional or mental level.
Henry is not unintelligent by any means. He is just not in tune with Elizas hidden needs, and he doesnt pick up on this complex womans subtleties. Marilyn L. Mitchell sees Elizas frustration, also, as unhappiness in her marriage. She sees the division in the marriage that McMahan confronted, but she veers off into a realm where Eliza is dissatisfied with what she has done or has been allowed to do with her life. She converts Elizas interaction with the tinker into her suppressed sexuality coming to light.
This sexuality is a passion to do what women are kept from doing. she is kept out of any male jobs, and even her dirtiest tasks are womens jobs. She takes seriously comments that Henry makes on her possibly working in the orchard to produce apples as big as her chrysanthemums, while Henry continues on, obviously joking. The tinkers words, as each of the critics agree, are a romantic link to what Eliza longs for. Mitchel, however, argues that what Eliza wants is to be allowed to tackle the work of a man instead of being confined to her role as a woman.
Elizas romance with the tinkers life becomes clearly apparent. All of a sudden, he is something that is straight out of the unknown. It isnt anything special about his nature, except for the fact that he hit upon the right words at the right time that instantly meshed with Elizas subconscious and made her quieted and fenced in longing peak in a display of passion. Passion is the sexuality. This doesnt mean that Eliza didnt have a decent sex life. This didnt mean that she wanted children. It is more intimate and important than those things.
They are too simple, while this is Elizas entire soul or essence. This woman is clearly an androgynous character, and when one tries to understand her, it is not that the person would have to be female. This is a female character being written by a man, lets not forget that. Im now seeing a better, clearer line that divides the sex of the critic here. Women will often want to project their feelings onto the character of Eliza. Henry – with so little written of him, can easily be demonized and be pinned into the stereotype of a dumb, brutish male.
Men, when criticizing, will ignore this, and seem to place some kind of blame on Eliza for her own dissatisfaction for not having or being able to have children. Again, I stress that Elizas emotions cannot be pushed to either the predominantly male or predominantly female side, nor can they be pushed into little cubby holes that define the different stereo-types of a woman. Her androgyny uses such stereo-types to define her, and to go over that and then use even more to define the end product of the story would be a mistake.