Term Paper: Chrysanthemums by John Steinbeck

Pages: 4 (1464 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Society can constrain us if we do not conform, and it can be deadly to the heart and soul of those it constrains. Elisa does not kill herself at the end of "The Chrysanthemums," but she might as well, because she is living and empty and meaningless life and her husband has no idea there is anything wrong. "She turned up her coat collar so he could not see that she was crying weakly -- like an old woman" (Steinbeck). Paul knows his life would be just as empty and meaningless as Elisa's, and he is not as strong as she is. He cannot return to his old life once he tastes the "good" life, and it is doubtful Elisa could either if she ever managed to break away. Elisa is strong enough to endure, but that is all she is doing, and her life is really just as sad and unfulfilling as Paul's was. The saddest thing about this theme is that it is so common in society - so many people live meaningless and unfulfilled lives because of the constraints of family, society, and what is "normal" and what is not. Lives are ruined by these constraints, just as Elisa's is, and the people around them often never understand there is anything wrong, or why.

Both of these stories are tragedies, and the themes in them help them seem all the more tragic. Paul's life is wasted because he cannot cope with reality, and so is Elisa's. Loneliness is common in our society, and these themes ultimately illustrate that a person does not need to be alone to be lonely and misunderstood. Most people would not understand why these two characters are so unhappy, but the authors use techniques to flesh them out and make them three-dimensional to the reader, and so their problems are more easily understood. This characterization also helps in determining the themes that are affecting them in the stories, and what the authors are saying about a society that turns its back on people who have dreams in their souls that are never fulfilled. Society turns its back on people like this, and after reading these two works, it is easy to see why the authors wanted to highlight these themes. They are prevalent in society, these two characters show how the person next door can be sad, lonely, and unfulfilled, and no one might ever know.

The difference between these two characters is not only age and gender. Paul actually lives out his dreams for a while at the Waldorf-Astoria. "His golden days went by without a shadow, and he made each as perfect as he could" (Cather). He creates the dream for himself, even if it is at the cost of the company he worked for, while Elisa cannot break away from her "normal" life on the farm to reach out to the world she thinks she is missing. She desperately wants adventure in her life, but she is afraid to go after it, and she is constrained by society, as the tinker's words show: "It would be a lonely life for a woman, ma'am, and a scary life, too, with animals creeping under the wagon all night" (Steinbeck). Clearly, women were not supposed to strike out on their own, any more than young boys were supposed to dream about lives filled with champagne, fine clothing, and not having to work for a living. The differences in these characters only point out the commonality of the themes, and how both are adversely affected by their loneliness, their dreams, and their unfulfilled desires.

In conclusion, these two stories at first seem totally unrelated, but in fact, both characters are facing the same problems, and both stories share common thematic approaches. Both stories have characters that cannot relate to their "real" lives, and so they are unhappy and unfulfilled. The authors wanted their readers to understand how the constraints of society can adversely affect people's lives, and turn them in to desperately unhappy people with broken dreams and unfulfilled desires. Both characters react to their situations differently, but they face the same thematic situations and the same tragic end - they cannot reach their dreams, and their reality is tragic and unfulfilled.


Kennedy, X.J. And Dana Gioia. Literature: Introduction to Fiction, Poetry & Drama, 3rd Edition. New York: Pearson Longman,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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