Elisa Allen is the protagonist of John Steinbeck’s short story â€œThe Chrysanthemums,â€ and Louise Mallard is the protagonist of Kate Chopin’s â€œThe Story of An Hour.â€ Both Elisa and Louise are products of their social and historical contexts, particularly when it comes to gender norms. Elisa and Louise are passive protagonists, because patriarchy has stripped them of political agency. By creating passive protagonists in their respective short stories, Steinbeck and Chopin make powerful social commentary about the role of women in their private and public lives.
Both Elisa and Louise feel stuck in their marriage, but perceive liberation as impossible within the confines of their culture. In both short stories, nature symbolizes wasted potential. For example, Elisa is capable of so much more than gardening: “The chrysanthemum stems seemed too small and easy for her energy,” (Steinbeck). Similarly, Louise realizes that she has wasted her life when she sees nature through the window of the room. â€œShe felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air,” (Chopin). Nature also symbolizes fantasy and escape for both Elisa and Louise. For example, Elisa is most passionate when she speaks about chrysanthemums, especially with the man. For Louise, nature is literally what inspires her to escape as she confines herself to indoors and can only see nature from the window. When she stares out the window, she becomes lost in thought, her â€œgaze was fixed away off yonder on one of those patches of blue sky. It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought,” (Chopin). However, nature also represents hope for Louise: â€œShe could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life,” (Chopin). Gardening also happens to symbolize Elisa’s pent-up sexual energy. For instance, â€œ she was kneeling on the ground looking up at him. Her breast swelled passionately,â€ (Steinbeck). Sexual awakening does not happen for Louise, who remains repressed.
Both Elisa and Louise long to be liberated from a loveless marriage. Both protagonists are described as young and in their sexual prime, with Louise being described as â€œyoungâ€ and â€œfair,â€ and Elisa as â€œlean and strong.â€ However, both are trapped in a loveless marriage. Henry is kind but protective of his wife and does not allow her passion for life to shine. In â€œStory of An Hour,â€ Brently’s death is the only thing that helps Louise to realize how miserable she actually was. Neither Louise nor Elisa have any hope for liberation, because doing so would violate social norms. This is why Louise fights her feelings of joy: â€œshe was striving to beat it back with her will–as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been,â€ (Chopin). Elisa also fights her feelings: â€œShe tried not to look as they passed it, but her eyes would not obey,â€ (Steinbeck).
Although the stories end differently, with Louise dying and Elisa just crying, both Steinbeck and Chopin conclude on a pessimistic note. Both women become “old” before their time, as when Elisa â€œturned up her coat collar so he could not see that she was crying weakly-like an old woman,” (Steinbeck). Louise has a heart attack, but she was able to feel liberation for a brief moment before she died: Chopin calls that â€œthe joy that kills,â€ (Chopin). Likeweise, Elisa was able to experience a brief moment of feeling young, attractive, and alive when she was with the transient man.
Steinbeck reveals far more about Elisa than Chopin does about Louise, yet their respective storytelling strategies serve the same ultimate goal of revealing the pitfalls of patriarchy. Because of their gender, both Louise and Elisa are not able to live freely or live up to their full potential as human beings. Although Steinbeckâ€™s story offers slightly more hope for Elisa because of the way the traveler inspires in her a sexual awakening, both Elisa and Louise are tragic figures that remind women to work harder to break free from the confines of social norms.
Chopin, Kate. â€œThe Story of An Hour.â€
Steinbeck, John. â€œThe Chrysanthemums.â€
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