The stereotypical gender role of a married woman of the Twenties was a childbearing, housewife. As soon as a woman was married it was expected of them to quit their job and start producing children. Very rarely would you find a fertile married couple without children. The woman’s role in the family was to take care Of the children and complete the household chores such as cooking, cleaning and the occasional sowing. In Steinbeck ‘ ‘The Chrysanthemums” Henry and Elise are a perfectly capable and fertile couple, but do not have children. Women of the twenties were known for their dainty physiques and Minnie clothing.
Rarely would a woman be walking around without a proper dress and a pair of heals. They usually dressed extremely modest, not even showing a shoulder. Their hair was usually curled and pulled back into a very neat up do. Compliments such as beautiful, dainty, feminine and well dressed were very typical for these women. As Ghats Christie says in Murder on the Links, “Now I am old-fashioned. A woman, I consider, should be womanly. Have no patience with the modern neurotic girl who jazzes from morning to night, smokes like a chimney, and uses language which would make a alienating fish woman blush! In the story Elise wears a very masculine gardening outfit with men’s shoes. She wears dirty gloves and an old hat as well. Henry does not use the ‘typical” compliments of this time to compliment Elise; he uses words like strong and compliments her on her ability to garden. The idea of women working outside was typically not a common one. Women were expected to stay inside the house and do chores that did not involve extreme manual labor. Cooking cleaning, taking care of the children and husband were all on their list of things to do.
In “The Chrysanthemums” Elise is an extremely talented gardener that is particularly good at growing Chrysanthemums. She spends most of her time tending to her flowers that are not the easiest to grow or keep healthy. Henry jokingly tells Elise that she should work in the orchard because of her outstanding gardening skills. He says “You’ve got a gift with things, some of those yellow chrysanthemums you had this year were ten inches across. Wish you’d work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big. ” Elise instantly brightens up (Steinbeck 542).
Stereotypical men of the Twenties were generally the head of the house. They were in charge of any income that was made. They rarely would discuss any financial topic with the women because it was not a woman’s place to know. Henry actually discusses the finances with Elise; he discusses how he sold his cattle for a good deal and suggests that they should go out to celebrate. In this time period men typically leaned towards doing what they wanted instead of consulting their wives. Even if it was just as simple as choosing what they should do on a Saturday night.
Henry comes off as being an extremely caring man when it comes to asking Elise if she would like to go out to dinner and a movie or if she would like to go to the fights. Even though Henry probably knew that Elise would choose dinner and a movie he offered to take her to the fights. Women drinking was almost completely unheard of, it was actually rather frowned upon. Women rarely went out to bars, or even had wine at home. Although women could not drink, if men decided to drink alcohol, it was acceptable. While Henry and Elise were on their way to dinner and a movie Elise actually speaks out and asks Henry if they could have wine.
Henry is very calm and responds with a ‘Yes”, as though it is not out of the ordinary at all. Men typically were not observant of their women in the Twenties. They Were the head Of the house, relationship, and family. The men obviously loved their wives, but it was unusual for a man to notice anything different about their wives because they simply were not observant. Henry is extremely observant of Elise. He notices how talented she is at gardening. He also notices when she begins to act differently after talking to the Tinker. He even notices that she is upset after seeing the dirt from her Chrysanthemums n the road.
Steinbeck approaches this story in a different way than many would if they were writing about this period of time. He insisted the stereotypical gender roles in the story by portraying Elise and Henry in very different lights. Elise is a very smart, beautiful, strong, passionate thirty-five year old woman without children. She shows a very strong interest in the financial opportunities of the ranch and loves to work outside. She shows little interest in the typical outfits of women of the twenties. She wears extremely masculine and old, dirty gardening outfits. She also enjoys going out and having wine with her husband.
Elise is not afraid to speak her mind either; she even expressed interest to Henry in the extremely violent fights that go on in town. In “The Chrysanthemums” Steinbeck does a great job of portraying Henry as a powerful, manly, head of the house. Although Henry has characteristics of a stereotypical man of the Twenties Steinbeck allows for Henrys character to be a very understanding, caring and nonjudgmental man. The story opens up with Henry openly talking to Elise about his finances that deal with him selling his cows. He also is extremely observant of Elise.
He notices when she is upset, or acts different, he is quick to point it out as well. He also is very genuine about giving out very caring compliments to Elise, he Strays away from the stereotypical compliments Of the time. He tells Elise, “l don’t know. I mean you lo different, strong and happy’ (Steinbeck 547). Henry also comes off as being a very nonjudgmental man, he is extremely accepting of the way his wife is. He tends to listen to what she has to say and never seems to take it the wrong way. Henry even allows Elise to drink wine tit him at dinner, which is extremely rare of a man at this time.
In “The Chrysanthemums” Steinbeck takes two characters that could have been extremely stereotypical and completely changes their gender roles. He allows the reader’s mind to be opened to the idea of a very independent and strong woman, and a patient understanding man. He portrays the characters in very likeable ways so that the reader learns to like each character for who they are throughout the story. Steinbeck completely demolishes the stereotypes of gender roles of the Twenties in the simple way of portraying two characters in a different way.