A Woman’s Job
“The Chrysanthemums” written by John Steinbeck, illustrates the feelings of a woman in a misogynistic relationship living in a patriarchal society. Women are placed into gender roles of being housewives to their working husbands. They are portrayed as fragile, quiet, and submissive, and Steinbeck renders Elisa Allen as such, but her actions throughout the story show otherwise. Steinbeck elucidates Elisa’s realization of who she is as a woman, but how she hides her true feelings from her husband.
In the beginning of the story, Elisa is described as lean and strong, but “her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume” (Steinbeck). This is the first illustration that while Elisa is strong, she isn’t strong enough for what she is wearing. She is also wearing mostly men’s clothing for gardening, which defeminizes Elisa’s character. He even uses the masculine adjective, “handsome”, to describe her appearance as she gardens. The way Steinbeck describes Elisa in the garden is that the tools are using her and not the other way around; they are strong and powerful. Her energy while working with the chrysanthemums is “over-eager, over-powerful” and from the use of the masculine adjectives, this is too much for a woman. Steinbeck is subtly describing Elisa in comparison to a man. Henry Allen, Elisa’s husband, is introduced into the story. His tone starts off friendly, but slowly begins to sound condescending, like he is speaking to a child. He observes that she is doing a good job with her flower crops, and states that he wishes Elisa “work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big” (Steinbeck). She reminds him that she could easily do it, but from his tone he knows that he wouldn’t allow her to work on the orchards because that is a man’s job. Elisa retorts that she has a gift working with plants and he reminds her “it sure works with flowers” (Steinbeck). A flower is a common object of femininity and Henry is insisting that of course Elisa would be good at raising the chrysanthemums because she is a woman. Henry believes that women have a place in the world and should only tend to certain jobs. This hints towards the subtle underlying connection of their misogynistic relationship. Elisa’s husband isn’t the only man in the story that dismisses her intelligence and eagerness to do the jobs that men do. A tinkler is passing by and asks Elisa if she has any work for him; he is a fixer that fixes cookware and sharpens knives. She is resistant to his proposition, but becomes animated when he expresses interest in her chrysanthemums. The conversation is one-sided and the tinkler seems bored of Elisa as she talks about her flowers. Elisa notices and “she stood up then, very straight, and her face was ashamed” (Steinbeck). Elisa remembers that this man is her superior, even if he isn’t her husband, but her superior because he is a man. She offers to find something for the tinkler to fix and “his manner changed, he became professional” (Steinbeck). Steinbeck uses Henry and the tinkler as a parallel to society. The men express no interest in a woman and her abilities, similar to the way society dismisses women.
“The Chrysanthemums” is a manifestation of a society that dismisses woman who are incisive. Elisa’s curiosity is consistently dismissed by her husband and the tinkler. Henry jokingly suggests that they see a fight in town and Elisa declines, but only does this because she doesn’t think it is a place for a women. The tinkler also rejects her eagerness about his job stating, “it would be a lonely life for a woman…and a scary life too…” (Steinbeck). Both men are stating that Elisa should just watch their jobs from afar. The men in the story are described as boring and less vividly than Elisa. Elisa is intelligent, curious, and adventurous. She is constantly seeking answers to the questions she has of the world. She escapes her misogynistic relationship with her husband while she talks to the tinkler, only to realize he is the same as her husband. Elisa is trapped in a patriarchal society and the scenery encompasses the entrapment she feels as a woman in this story. She is able to escape reality temporarily as she bids the tinkler goodbye “her shoulders were straight, her head thrown back, her eyes half-closed so that the scene came vaguely into them…then she whispered, ‘That’s a bright direction. There’s glowing there’” (Steinbeck). The setting of the story takes place on a piece of land, isolated from the main town, similar to Elisa’s isolated life with her husband.
Steinbeck introduces Elisa in the beginning, describing her with masculine adjectives and stating that she was wearing men’s clothing to garden. The chrysanthemums are a representation of Elisa in life, and the setting is the enclosure of herself and the flowers; by being able to plant these flowers Elisa is able to escape from her reality. Elisa is stripped of her femininity throughout the story and is shown disconnected from her feminine side. There is significance when Elisa begins to feel more comfortable when the tinkler comes and she begins to talk about the flowers; “she tore off the battered hat and shook out her dark pretty hair”, and “the gloves were forgotten” (Steinbeck). Slowly, Elisa is remembering her adventurous side as a woman. After the tinkler has gone, she feels at peace when she starts to get ready for dinner with her husband. She put on her newest underclothing and her nicest stockings and the dress which was the symbol of her prettiness. She worked carefully on her hair, penciled her eyebrows, and rouged her lips (Steinbeck). Elisa has been re-categorized into a more feminine category as she dresses for dinner with her husband. It follows that her husband is shocked because she looks “different, strong and happy” (Steinbeck). These feminine actions in comparison with the masculine adjectives used to describe Elisa at first, symbolize her remembering that she is a woman. Elisa is still joyful of her brief liberation of being in a relationship with a misogynistic man, she forgets and asks Henry again if women attend the fights; Henry insists that she won’t like it and she shouldn’t go. Elisa is abruptly brought back into reality and reminded of her place in society and in her relationship with her husband.
John Steinbeck provides an insight to the reality of a trapped women in a patriarchal society. The emotions conveyed in the story represent the feelings of Elisa in her relationship with a misogynistic man who dismisses her intelligence consistently. Not only does her husband dismiss her, but a tinkler disregards her because she is a women. There is a symbolic significance of the chrysanthemums throughout the story. The flowers are consistently described as strong, just like Elisa. She becomes one with the flowers because this is the only thing she can be good at. When the tinkler comes along, at first he rejects the flowers. This is parallel to society rejecting woman; the chrysanthemums are a representation of women in society. In this society, women are taught to cater to men; women are not allowed to deviate from societal standards set by men.
The Door of Opportunity
John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums” dives into the world of wife Elisa Allen. As a 35 year old woman she is childless and extremely dissatisfied in her passionless marriage to her well-meaning but utterly clueless husband, Henry. Her low level of self-confidence also contributes to this feeling. Despite having her chrysanthemums to make her somewhat happier in her life, in the end she fails to confront her dissatisfaction in every other aspect of her life, ultimately leading to a lifetime of unfulfillment.
Elisa is deeply unsatisfied with her marriage. Elisa and her husband Henry are more like roommates than husband and wife in the sense that their marriage is passionless and they go about their daily activities more or less completely separate from one another. Elisa feels disconnected from Henry because of this lack of togetherness and is illustrated when Henry tells her that he “sold thirty head of three-year-old steers” getting “nearly my own price, too” (Steinbeck). Elisa reacts by saying “Good,…Good for you” (Steinbeck). Her reaction shows how she does not celebrate this as an accomplishment for the both of them, but only sees it as something good for Henry, even though this accomplishment is bound to benefit the both of them.
Elisa’s and Henry’s lack of communication also contributes to her dissatisfaction with her marriage. The couple never has any disagreements because they do know how to have one. When the story opens and the scenery of the Salinas Valley is being described, there is mention of there being fog and the farmers being hopeful of rain, “but fog and rain do not go together.” These elements are unwilling to confront each other much like Elisa and Henry. Elisa-like the fog- is much too indistinct while Henry-like the rain- is altogether absent . In their first discussion of the story, Henry describes a fight that is happening and jokingly asks Elisa if she wants to go and she responds “Oh, no… No, I wouldn’t like fights” eluding to the absence of friction between them that prevents their relationship from growing stronger.
Elisa’s low self-confidence acts as a profound barrier to her finding satisfaction in her life. Her appearance and the clothing that she wears is described as “Her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume, a man’s black hat pulled low down over her eyes, clod-hopper shoes, a figured print dress almost completely covered by a big corduroy apron…She wore heavy leather gloves to protect her hands while she worked” and it purposefully allows her to blend in and not call attention to herself. Her low self-confidence can also be attributed to the small confines of her world. The scenery of the story is described as “The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world. On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot” (Steinbeck). In this closed pot, her attention is always focused on her chrysanthemums, leading her to feel like that is all she can be good at. This also explains why Elisa avoids answering Henry’s offer when he wishes aloud that Elisa could raise a cash crop of apples in addition to her chrysanthemums (Steinbeck). Despite Elisa having “planter’s hands” that destroyed pests such as aphids, sowbugs, and snails “before they could get started”, and having an abundance of energy that “The chrysanthemum stems seemed to small and easy for…” she is hesitant to take up his offer (Steinbeck). Although Elisa would most likely succeed at this new venture, her low confidence and fear of failure stops her from moving forward.
In her world of dissatisfaction, the chrysanthemums arguably offer Elisa the most joy and are a high source of pride for her. When she is working in the garden one day, a tinker shows up and unbeknownst to her, cons her into giving him a brand new pot. When he first comes into the scene, the tinker asks Elisa if she has any work for him to do stating “I mend pots and sharpen knives and scissors. You got any of them things to do?” (Steinbeck). At first, Elisa is visibly irritated that the man is bothering her but when the tinker searches for something to connect with her with and find the chrysanthemums, “the irritation and resistance melted from Elisa’s face” (Steinbeck). As she started to explain her chrysanthemums to the man, her eyes began to “grow alert and eager” and they shone (Steinbeck). Elisa suddenly gains some kind of strength from the sexually charged moment that they share bonding over their mutual appreciation of the chrysanthemums as “Her breast swelled passionately” and her “voice grew husky.” This strength is something that she has not been able to get from her husband. While Henry appreciates her chrysanthemums for their function and size, stating “Some of those yellow chrysanthemums you had this year were 10 inches across”, the tinker “appreciates” them for their beauty, describing the flower as “Kind of a long-stemmed flower? Looks like a quick puff of smoke?” (Steinbeck). This elicits a response in Elisa that her husband has been unable to evoke. When the man asks for some chrysanthemums to bring to a woman down the road, Elisa was ecstatic to help him as she “ran excitedly along the geranium-bordered path to the back of the house” to get a pot to put the flowers in and tears off her “battered hat and shook out her dark pretty hair” in addition to removing the heavy leather gloves (Steinbeck). This is a sign of her softening and opening up completely to the man, in a way that she does not do for her husband. Her connection with the tinker momentarily takes her out of her confined self and gives her hope for the future.
In addition to her talk with the tinker about the chrysanthemums, they also discussed the tinker’s life on the road. Elisa began to think about what life travelling around would be like, even challenging the tinker, saying “You might be surprised to have a rival some time. I can sharpen scissors, too. And I can beat the dents out of little pots. I could show you what a woman might do” (Steinbeck). The man countered that “It would be a lonely life for a woman, ma’am, and a scarey life, too, with animals creeping under the wagon all night” (Steinbeck). As he leaves down the road, Elisa remarks “That’s a bright direction. There’s a glowing there” suggesting that Elisa believes that maybe she can try something new that does not deal with her chrysanthemums and still succeed at it.
After her encounter with the tinker, she returns to her house and gets ready for dinner with her husband by dressing up in her nicest clothes “the symbol of her prettiness” hoping to elicit a response from her husband about her beauty much like the tinker did with her chrysanthemums (Steinbeck). When Henry sees her, he simply responds “You look so nice,” utterly clueless to the fact that she wanted him to call her beautiful (Steinbeck). Henry means well but is unable to connect with his wife on an emotional level. He has been blinded by his own work and role as provider of the household that he cannot see that Elisa needs more fulfillment in her life.
As the couple begins to drive to dinner, Elisa notices the flowers that she gave to the tinker are tossed onto the road. For Elisa, this is a huge betrayal because she opened herself up to the tinker on such a deep and emotional level about the chrysanthemums that she cared so much about. Just like her husband Henry, the tinker only wanted the pot that the chrysanthemums were in solely for its practical use and simply leaves the flowers to die on the road. The strength that she once felt vanishes and again she feels limited.
Elisa realizes that her precious flowers that she gave over to a complete stranger with the expectations that they would be taken care of, were thrown into the wind like a piece of garbage. This realization hits her hard and she hides her face from her husband as she begins to cry “weakly-like an old woman” (Steinbeck). Again, her husband is unable to emotionally connect with her to figure out what is wrong. In the end, Elisa fails to escape her perceived limitations in life. Rather than risking failing at her dreams that could give her the opportunity to live more freely and fulfilled, she chooses to settle for the life she has always known, even if it means a lifetime of suffering.
Symbolism in John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums”
In John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums,” nature represents Elisa Allen’s confinement, the chrysanthemums symbolizes Elisa herself, and the tinker embodies Elisa’s wants. The narrator compares the Salinas Valley to “a closed pot” because “[a] high gray-flannel fog of winter closed off the [valley] from the sky and from all the rest of the world… [and] it sat like a lid on the mountains” (350). This imagery mirrors Elisa because she feels trapped and deprived as seen with her husband and the tinker. The narrator also mentions that “the foothill ranches across the Salinas River… bathed in… sunshine,” however “there was no sunshine in the valley” (350). The symbolism here suggests that happiness is within Elisa’s reach, but not in her presence. This essay discusses the many events in the story that are symbolic, including the weather and setting, the chrysanthemums and the tinker.The narrator states that the “farmers were mildly hopeful of a good rain… but rain and fog do not go together” (350). Rain is a universal symbol that represents rebirth or sadness. This is seen when Elisa “[cried] weakly – like an old woman” (356). Elisa and Henry Allen also represent the rain and fog in that they do not belong together. He minimizes her although he recognizes that her talent is raising flowers. The fog (Henry) covers the mountain and is the lid to the pot (350), the same way Henry contains his wife. When Henry tells Elisa that he has sold thirty steers for “nearly [his] own price,” Elisa responds with, “Good. Good for you” (351). This suggests that they both have nothing in common; he is more interested in business and money and she is interested in the life and growth of her flowers.The chrysanthemums symbolically represent Elisa, or part of her. They are seen as Elisa’s non-existent children because of the way she nurtures them. When she inspects the flowers for “aphids… sowbugs… snails [and] cutworms [,] her terrier fingers [would destroy] such pests before they could [start]” (351). This is a motherly attribute that symbolizes the protection a mother provides to her young. On the other hand, the flowers take nine months to grow, similar to the development of a human child in the womb of his, or her, mother. The chrysanthemums are also described as “strong” and beautiful (351-353). The beauty and strength of the flowers are parallel to Elisa’s “lean and strong [face]” (350) as well as “the dress [she wore to dinner] which was the symbol of her prettiness” (355).As the tinker pulls up in his “old springwagon” with painted words that are misspelled as “pots, pans, knives, sisors, lawn mores,” it leads us to believe that the tinker is not wise (351) although his greying hair and beard suggests otherwise and that he has experience (352), and he symbolically represents Elisa’s wishes. In the dialogue between them, the tinker brags about his freedom: “I go from Seattle to San Diego and back every year,” (352) and then he tells Elisa, who dreams of women doing such things, that his way of living “ain’t the right kind of life for a woman” (354). Steinbeck also reveals Elisa’s longing for sexual fulfillment when “her breast swelled passionately” (353) in front of the Tinker.Additional events in the story are symbolic as well. For example, Elisa took off her gardening gloves when she was talking to the Tinker (352) and subjected herself to disappointment. The gloves symbolize protection, especially in boxing, and without them she became vulnerable. When she spots “a dark speck” in the middle of the road (355), she knew what it was and feels part of her die inside as the flower is a part of her. The gloves and other symbolic elements described here enrich and strengthen the story. Work CitedSteinbeck, John. “The Chrysanthemums.” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Robert Zweig. 5th Compact ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2012. 350-356. Print.
People’s Limitations in John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums”
In his short story “The Chrysanthemums,” John Steinbeck portrays not just the restrictions placed upon the protagonist, Elisa Allen, in the male dominated society of her day, but the intellectual and emotional shortcomings of the men to understand and acknowledge such a fact. Through his text, Steinbeck examines people’s limitations.The first lines of “The Chrysanthemums” not only set the scene of the story, winter in Salinas Valley, California, but also capture the idea of limitation. Steinbeck writes, “The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world. On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot” (Steinbeck 389). The “grey” color and the thick, warm, “flannel” texture of the fog limit visibility, effectively separating the valley and its residents from the rest of the world. The idea of enclosure continues when the author compares the fog attached to the mountains and the valley to a lid on a pot. Not only does the fog curtail visibility, but also, as the simile implies, the energy and spirit within it cannot express itself. As if looking through a telescope the wrong way, Steinbeck moves from a panoramic view of the valley, across the river to Henry Allen’s foothill ranch, and finally to the protagonist herself, Henry’s wife, Elisa. Through the narrowing perspective, Steinbeck renders her small and insignificant, almost lost in a larger world. The initial image of Elisa confined within “the wire fence that protected her flower garden from cattle and dogs and chickens” (390), supports the idea of limitation, her world within a larger one. The unyielding, harsh quality of “the wire fence,” together with the listing of potential dangers that seem more extensive through the repetition of “and,” infer that she, like her chrysanthemums, needs substantial protection from the outside world. Behind the enclosed garden stands the Allen’s house, “a white farm house with red geraniums close-banked around it as high as the windows” (390). Elisa’s home, similar to her garden, appears prison like, the geraniums resembling security walls “high” and “close-banked.” The quantity of the flowers, together with their height, as “high as the windows,” limits both vision and movement. Such physical images of restraint: the fog, the enclosed garden, and home symbolize limitations, captivity and restricted vision.The author expands on the theme of limitations as he considers Elisa Allen herself. Unlike the “figured print dress” (390), the shapeless, functional gardening clothes that she wears obscure her femininity. Described as a “costume” (390), her clothes alter or disguise her real appearance. The weight and size of the garments: “clodhopper shoes,” “big corduroy apron” with “big pockets” and the “heavy leather gloves” that cover her hands, conceal the real Elisa (390). The very length of the third sentence illustrates the weight and shapelessness of the garb that disguises her. Together with the “man’s black hat,” the clothing emasculates her, Elisa’s sexuality almost completely “blocked” or restrained (390). The chrysanthemum seeds and the gardening tools: “trowel,” “scratchers,” and “knife,” which indicate fertility and possibly sexuality, remain buried in the depths of Elisa’s apron pockets (390). Though her youth has past, at thirty-five Elisa has plenty of time to live. In contrast to the fog that blinds the area, her eyes “as clear as water” (390) show not only impressive vision and probable wisdom, but also the ability and desire to see beyond the immediate. Clearly, she has much to offer. Not only attractive, she has maturity and spirit. Yet, Steinbeck infers that Elisa’s energy can barely be contained within her limited lifestyle. As she cuts down the old chrysanthemum stalks she appears “over-eager, over-powerful” as if the thick stems seemed “too small and easy for her energy” (390). Likewise, her “little house” looked “hard-swept,” the windows “hard-polished” (390). Her enthusiasm and her capabilities make her efforts too extreme for the tasks at hand; hence, the stalks and the house appear more diminutive than likely. Like the chrysanthemums she tends, Elisa has the potential to bloom broadly if only the limitations placed upon her disappeared. The two male characters in the text represent the society that places the limitations, constraints, upon Elisa and other women. Henry Allen and the visiting tinker, at separate times each converse with her from the other side of the wire fence. The fact that she remains within the enclosure of her garden implies that Elisa cannot be part of the men’s world. Similarly, the men, unable to appreciate her needs and talents, remain without. At the beginning of the story, Elisa simply looks on from afar, as her husband conducts business with two other men. Steinbeck writes, she “looked down across the yard and saw Henry, her husband, talking to two men in business suits” (389). The distance between herself and the men, emphasized by the words “down across,” confirms that as a woman she must be excluded from meaningful discussions even though she seems more intelligent than her husband or the tinker for that matter. The misspelled words “scisors” (391) and lawn “mores” (391), plus the dripping paint on the tinker’s wagon, seems sloppy in comparison to Elisa’s efficient industry in the home and garden. Despite the tinker’s own limitations, his lack of intelligence and perception, he has the freedom to be and do as he pleases. He “[goes] from Seattle to San Diego and back every year. Takes all [his] time. About six months each way. [He] [aims] to follow nice weather” (392). The short sentences give the impression of time to spare. Traveling toward San Diego, he tracks the sun, warm weather, and possible prospects. However, Elisa Allen remains in the winter fog. Steinbeck implies the man has opportunities, the woman none. When the tinker assumes, “It ain’t the right kind of life for a woman,” Steinbeck writes, “Her upper lip raised a little, showing her teeth. ‘How do you know? How can you tell?’” (394). The baring of her teeth hints at both aggression and defense. Later, as she watches the tinker leave, Elisa whispered, “That’s a bright direction. There’s a glowing there” (395) because she senses possibilities of a more fulfilling life. Her whispering suggests awe but also guilt when “she looked around to see whether anyone had been listening” (395). Through Elisa, Steinbeck questions the necessity of the limitations society imposes on women. Within the limitations of a male dominated society, come the further boundaries of marriage. Aware of her responsibilities, Elisa keeps a clean home and tends to her husband’s needs. When Henry came in from work, “Elisa [had] laid his dark suit on the bed, and shirt and socks and tie behind it” (395). The use of the comma, together with the repetition of “and” lengthens the sentence. In her efficiency, she sees to Henry’s every need, but the task seems wearisome. In his turn, Henry cares about his wife: he compliments her gardening skills and offers to take her out to celebrate his business deal. Yet while their conversation seems pleasant, it lacks spontaneity and familiarity. Elisa comments “good” (390) to Henry’s business transaction and again to the suggestion of an evening out. The repetition of her bland response, “Good… Oh, yes. That will be good” (390), suggests a lack of real interest. Similarly, Henry has to “put on his joking tone” (391). The fact that he has to “put on” a relaxed tone indicates an unnatural force and stiffness between them. In contrast, Elisa and the tinker converse easily and with humor. Steinbeck writes, “The man caught up her laughter and echoed it heartily” (391). The word “echoed” captures the naturalness of their chatter. Perceiving the easy familiarity they share, Elisa’s repressed sexuality starts to emerge. Though Elisa does not seem to notice her husband’s appearance, her quick appraisal of the tinker’s reveals interest. His interest intensifies when he observes her chrysanthemums, and by extension her. In Elisa’s haste and excitement to gather little sprouts for the tinker to take, she temporarily forgets the narrowness of her life and “[tears] off [her] battered hat and [shakes] out her pretty dark hair” (393). The verb “tears” indicates not only passion but also eagerness simply to be herself. As she removes the man’s hat, she allows her femininity to emerge. When the tinker allows Elisa’s gardening expertise to instruct and guide him, the newfound freedom acts like an aphrodisiac. Steinbeck writes how “her breasts swelled passionately” (394) and her “voice grew husky” (394), releasing her previously confined sexuality. When the tinker has left, Elisa goes into the house to bathe. The description of her scrubbing her “legs and thighs, loins and chest and arms, until her skin was scratched and red” (395) reveals her thoroughness and determination to simply be herself. When she looks at her naked body, Elisa finally experiences complete freedom, restraints and limitations gone. Society demands Elisa’s freedom from limitation be short lived. The change in Elisa’s appearance creates tension between the husband and wife. As Henry emerges from his bath, Elisa “stiffened and her face grew tight” (396). She feels a combination of apprehension and hope, wishing to elicit a romantic or sexual response from her husband. While he sees a positive change in his wife commenting, “You look different, strong and happy” (396), he seems confused and uneasy by her transformation. Steinbeck describes how Henry “blundered on” and looked “bewildered” (396). His own limitations make it difficult for him to accept her as anything other than a dutiful wife or perhaps understand her need for more. Recognizing defeat, Elisa replaces her hat before leaving the home to join her husband. The firm action of “[pulling] it here and [pressing] it there” captures her resignation as once again her true self disappears. When Elisa sees the discarded chrysanthemum shoots at the side of the road, her rejection seems complete. The final scene between the couple creates pathos. Henry’s eagerness to please his wife with offerings of more frequent outings and wine with dinner, simply falls short. In her turn, Elisa rejects her instinctive desire to witness a fight with all its implied passion and excitement, the fighting gloves “heavy and soggy with blood” (396). Elisa convinces herself, “Oh no. No. I don’t want to go. I’m sure I don’t” (397). Clearly, she does. Her regression complete, she turns up her coat collar to hide her emotion. Her strength gives way to weakness and, as the limitations return, her sense of identity fades. In “The Chrysanthemums,” John Steinbeck examines people’s limitations. He not only examines the restrictions placed upon women in the male-oriented society of its day, but also the intellectual and emotional limitations of the men to understand and acknowledge such a fact. The protagonist, Elisa Allen, has much to offer. Attractive and spirited, strong and capable, she must nevertheless subdue her desires, talents, and dreams. Independence denied, Elisa must be content to surrender her identity to be a dutiful wife to Henry, a working man lacking her intellect and passion. Despite their shortcomings, Henry and the tinker have the freedom to be who they will. Clearly, Steinbeck feels sympathy for his main character and all women limited to an unsatisfactory life through no fault of their own. Unfortunately, society will always present limitations, if not for gender, then race or disability. With the loss of one barrier, comes the birth of another. With or without, can one ever be free?