An ordinary family life set in the rich and fertile neighborhood of Salinas, California, and "The Chrysanthemums" uses three characters, Tinker, Henry Allen and his wife, Elisa Allen. The author uses the normal setting, plot, symbols, and main characters to portray a conventional family life. The narration projects core themes, principles, values, and activities that make up an average lifestyle of a family in the Highland setting. The three characters provide for inclusion of several attributes, skills and different traits with the single aim of bringing a true reality behind a regular lifestyle among and between people of a given neighborhood. The author's fascinating account provides for a typical way of life coupled with basic personal needs of individuals especially while going about their normal ways of life to make a decent living. In life, contentment and full feeling of satisfaction are an uphill task especially when one is not living the true meaning of their lives. The once promising "great dream" is an illusion coupled with the nagging feeling that the grass is often green on the other side of one's life, a false perception and misconception in the contemporary world.
Henry is oblivious to her wife's feelings and concern. He is oblivious to Elisa's monotonous lifestyle and is only aware of her passion for the garden. Taking her time to take care of her garden, Elisa is hiding her true feelings. She is physically present in Henry's life but emotionally distant in her emotional, sexual, and psychological needs. Henry is too busy to realize the discomfort in her wife's life and mind. He remarks, "...You look strong enough to break a calf over your knee, happy enough to eat it like a watermelon (Steinbeck 33)." Even though Henry's comment is more like a compliment, it is a way of getting at Elena especially on her dedication to her garden. However, deep down, her mind and life are empty, with little feelings of enthusiasm. Her garden is her only mutual connection to the real world, and all else is just but a passing illusion.
What was once a beautiful relationship and dream of a great family is now a land of desperation in which Elisa is only left with the passion an appeal of other men. Her once good loving feeling towards Henry is now no more. She is done with the tender feelings towards Henry and is now attracted to Tinker. The nature of attraction towards Tinker is reflected when tinker remarks, "Elisa is charmed when tinker says he likes following good weather (Steinbeck 34)." The scenario is especially real when Tinker expresses definite interest in her garden and especially towards the chrysanthemums that look blooming and explicit. Elisa's situation is similar in displaying the femininity of women towards men. It is a projection of how easy it is women are enticed into affection and romance.
Lack of companionship and unfriendliness throws off Elisa into a constant feeling of unease in her marriage. All women once into marriage expect a blooming and fruitful affair full of life, romance, support, and affection. However, she is left off in a poor state rendering her emotionally and sexually empty (Tami 18). The family life as maintained by Hacke (1) is not real. Henry is aware of her wife's situation but criticises and ridicules her artistically. With her once good feeling thrown off and her left in a total emotional mess, Elisa comes to realize that family life is not as glorious as it is portrayed. A wide bridge is created between the couple, and as they attempt to converse and keep in touch by way of appreciating their works, they come to realize that they do not connect emotionally (Gale 34). For example, Henry comes to the garden and recommends her lovely, beautiful and strong looks. Nevertheless, Elisa fails to understand him and inquires what he means by the word "strong (Steinbeck 17)." It is a clear indication of the wide gap that often arises between couples once the good loving feeling and connection wear off.
Many a time, a newly wedded couple never fails to connect and bridge the gap that may develop between them. However, as depicted in the plot, such good feelings of contentment did wear off if not well cultivated and looked after (Gale 45). If neglected and couples' fail to appreciate their once blooming relationship, chances are high that all emotional and mutual connection will remain a pipe dream. The disinterest shown by Elisa towards Henry's comment and engagement is a clear indication of a failed relationship (Tami 34). Despite Henry's commitment towards providing for the family, it is evident that he has fallen off in emotionally and mutually caring for her wife. It is not by mistake that she has lost interest in the right deal that Henry has made with trading thirty steers to the meat corporation.
On the other hand, Elisa's mutual attraction towards Tinker is a clear indication that she perceives the green grass on the other side as enticing. She is not only attracted to Tinker in his works but is also charmed and amazed by his appreciation of the chrysanthemums. It is more than the good comments made by Henry towards her dedication to the garden (Tami 27). It is true that many a time in the society, people forget to appreciate what they do have and concentrate on external aspects of life. It is exactly what Henry has undertaken by ignoring Elisa's emotional well-being and focus on business deals. It is no doubt that this is what women go through once the wedding bells subside. In addition to their men, the entire society neglects, rejects, and assumes their primary role in the community, leaving them to wallow in emotional emptiness and mutual poverty (Gilbert 22). Just like her garden and the Chrysanthemums, Elisa is of little significance to the society. For example, Tinker throws off the chrysanthemums Elisa gives him, a clear indication of a not worthy person or initiative.
By objecting and throwing off the flowers, Elisa mindlessly realizes that it is never green on the other side or garden. Her good-feel emotional attraction towards Tinker is repelled by his objection of the flowers. The world is generally too busy, and the grass is never green as often assumed by many on the other side. In reality, the situation may be worse off by meeting total rejection on the other "assumed green garden" on the other side of the fence (Gale 57). It is further shown by the sunshine that depicts happiness Elisa associates with family life. However, it is never the reality, and the grass often looks greener on the other side. In her world, she is exhausted, trapped and tired; looking over the other side of life that she assumes is affectionate, mutually satisfying, and brightening. She at the same time is compared to "a fallow field that is reticent, yet it can grow if given space." As Tinker leaves, Elisa comments, "That's a bright direction. There's a glowing there (Steinbeck 45)." It is a clear indication of an attraction to the other side of life. However, as the author describes, Tinker is an uncaring, unemotional and dangerous man, the exact opposite that Elisa admires. The author narrates that Elisa is tempted to beg for a man to go with him, promise him her best. Besides making love, she will care for his adventures and many more that is only possible in her imagination and the "other side of the fence." The author narrates, "Elisa saw the man's free-bird lifestyle, and she wanted to live like that if only for a moment (Steinbeck 56). "
The author's fascinating account reveals a story behind family normal lifestyle with wishes among the characters for a better lifestyle, a better couple, a better flower, deal, promising ad future. It is no doubt that it is all an illusion, wishful thinking, believing that the grass is green on the other side of their lives. The author brings forth the reality of the plot by using strong characters able to manifest the truth behind people's lives in families (Tami 12). It is no doubt that family life and relationship produces a strong theme of lost love and wishful thinking in Elisa's character. On the Tinker's uncaring attitude, he not only confirms to Elisa that grass is never green on the other side, but he also affirms the society's uncaring attitude towards women's affairs both in families and in the community in general (Gilbert 44).
Marriage and couples live often start off with high expectations, love, mutual connection, and support. However, gradually, exposure to the real world brings out the incredible feeling of emptiness after some time together. It is like a dream that one had and is yet to realize its actuality even though one may be living the very life that is expected. According to the author's narration, Elisa's life was that of great opportunity, abundance, and fulfillment. As of every woman into marriage and as argued by Gilbert (65) Elisa had optimism and hope and was never the land of despair. She had based her questions and entire life on confidence, love, great family, support, mutual connection, friendship, and fulfilment (Steinbeck 44). However, her exposure and realization of Tinker brought forth the awareness of the many things she lacked in her marriage. It was once a happy union. She had all she needed regarding marital support and attention. However, the realization of the freestyle man made her realize her unfulfilled, limited and boxed life with Henry. She only discovers true happiness in her garden, a place that she has fenced off, kept away from her husband, the family dog, and visitors. In her world, as she observes and looks at Tinker, she realizes that her unfulfilled life, emotionally broken marriage, and empty feeling could find something better in him. However, when she finally finds what she wants, she develops the guilty sense and runs home to cleanse herself, a clear manifestation that the grass is never green on the other side.
Gilbert, Neil. Gender and social security reform: what's fair for women?. Routledge, 2017.
Hacke, Daniela. Women, sex and marriage in early modern Venice. Routledge, 2017.
Steinbeck, John. The chrysanthemums. Penguin UK, 2014.
Tami, Budney. "The Chrysanthemums". New York: McGraw Hill, 2007. Print.
Gale, Cengage Learning. A Study Guide for John Steinbeck's" Chrysanthemums". Gale, Cengage Learning, 2016.
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