I would appreciate if someone would look over my rough draft research essay for grammar, citation mistakes, and clarity errors. Thank you in advance!!
Professor Jessica Cobbs
Women in Society
Society for a long time has made the women in its second best. In the past, maybe even today, women were told that they should marry successful men, have children, and be good housewives. Women are told to be "seen and not heard," as if they were just an ornament to be on display. Sometimes in marriages, women are no more than property, they are expected to assume the identity of being just a wife. For some women, this destiny is known and understood, therefore these women use their womanhood to progress themselves into better suited situations, but for many others this way of life can be a challenge when there is a long for a different type of life outside of their constraints of marriage. Some women want to be free to explore and challenge society's rules, but because of the long standing hierarchy of men over them it can be impossible. These inequalities are shown frequently through The Chrysanthemums by John Steinbeck and The Other Two by Edith Wharton, through the female characters Elisa and Alice. In these short stories, both examine the roles of women in marriages in a male dominated society.
In the short stories The Other Two and The Chrysanthemums both Alice and Elisa are women who are defined by their marriages. In "The Other Two" the reader is introduced to a character named Alice and her husband Waythorn. In the beginning Waythorn is waiting on his wife Alice to come from seeing her sickly child. To Waythorn Alice is the perfect specimen of a women because of her commitment to her daughter. According to Wharton, "Her affection for the child had perhaps been her decisive charm in Waythorn eyes..." (1525). Waythorn first attraction to Alice was because of her motherly capabilities. He doesn't see any use of her beyond that of being a mother which signifies she will be a great care taker of him. Waythorn believes that his marriage to Alice will be easy and free from hardship, but he starts to pick up on her robot tendencies. For example, in The Other TwoAlice and Waythorn are perturbed by the letter of Haskett (Alice first husband) wanting to see his sick daughter in their home. This bothers both Alice and Waythorn, but Waythorn wants Alice not to worry and forget about this whole ordeal, to his surprise she easily does (Wharton 1526-1527). This is the first instance were Waythorn realizes his wife seem to be easily controlled. Alice is willing to change her emotions for Waythorn at his request. This symbolizes Alice obedience to Waythorn and her wanting to please him even if she has to shed her identity to do so.
Further into their marriage Waythorn has met both of Alice's ex-husband (Haskett and Varick), and they begin to disrupt his simple life, and open up more knowledge about his wife. He further begins to realize that his wife seems to change to match her current husband. He realizes this about Alice when she mistakenly pours cognac in his coffee. Wharton adds, "It startled him to think that she had, in the background of her life, a phase of existence so different from anything with which had connected her" (1531).Waythorn start to feel troubled at the fact that Alice has held on to part of her life beyond him. She is expected to belong to him so the very thought of ownership being to another man makes him feel uneasy and maybe even disturbs his manhood. Later as the story progresses, Waythorn begin to come to terms that his wife is a combination of her past experiences, he even realizes that it is best because she is fully equipped with the skills to make him a happy man. Wharton states, "He even began to reckon up the advantage which accrued from it, to ask himself if it were not better to own a third of a wife who knew how to make a man happy than a whole one who had lacked opportunity to acquire the art"(1535). Waythorn begins to appreciate the effect her past husbands have on her because in the end she becomes a better servant, needing little training.
Whereas, in The Chrysanthemumsthe reader is introduced to a character named Elisa. According to Steinbeck, "Elissa is described as, "thirty-five. Her face was lean mean and strong and her eyed was clear as water" (1869-1870). Even though Elisa's is described with male characteristics she is bound to do house chores and simple task like caring for her chrysanthemums. According to Skredsvig, "The house is "a hard-swept looking little house, with hard-polished windows, and a clean mud-mat on the front steps," all of which render evidence of Elisa's apparent acceptance of these responsibilities and competence in her designated duties" (np). Even though Elisa put on this outer exterior of manly characteristics she is still bounded to daily housewives chores. On the outside Elisa is a great wife she cleans, she keeps the yard up, and she also gets pretty for Henry when he takes her out to dinner. In Steinbeck words, "And then she scrubbed herself with a little block of pumice, legs and thighs, loins and chest and arms, until her skin was scratched and red... She put her newest under clothing and her nicest stockings and the dress which was the symbol of her prettiness. She worked carefully on her hair, penciled her eyebrows and roughed her lips" (1874-1875).Elisa wipes away her manly attributes when she dresses for Henry. She scrubs off her days of work resuming her life as a beautiful figure for Henry. Elisa has two sider to her where she is strong and fierce but, because of her role in society and her marriage she has to be dainty and beautiful.
Both Alice and Elisa must deal with how society want them to behave as a women in their marriages. In The Other Two Alice is an unusual woman, she has been married three times, and she has a child with her first husband Haskett. This is interesting because back in her time, because according to Bolivar Robin, "Once married, there was little possibility for escape" (254). For Alice she was lucky to have been able to have been divorced twice. She was only able to divorce Varicks because he committed adultery against her, and adultery back then was the only way for her to be removed from her marriage. When she divorced her first husband Haskett, which she had her daughter with, it was said that, "her recent divorce as the natural result of a runaway match at seventeen" (Wharton 1525). As a woman in her society at the time could have been easily shamed for her multiple marriages. In her society she could be possibly be characterized as sleazy or promiscuous. Because of her popularity and the court being on her side she was able to defy all odds and still be seen as a wholesome woman. Alice being married to three men means she has shared her most intimate side with all her husbands. This is a behavior that is only acceptable for men to have.
Another instance where Alice behavior in her marriage is questionable is when she was dishonest with her husband. For example, Waythorn asks Alice has she seen or spoken to her ex-husband Haskett, she tells him no. Later on Waythorn finds out she has lied and this opens his eyes to see that Alice is not the good wife he imagined her to be. According to Wharton, "He remembered distinctly that, after the first visit, he had asked his wife is she had seen Haskett. She had lied to him then, but she had respected his wishes since; and the incident cast a curious light on her character. He was sure she had not have seen Haskett that first day if she had divined that Waythorn would object, and the fact that she did di not divine it was almost as disagreeable to the latter as the discovery that she had lied to him"(1533). Waythorn believes that Alice should already know what she expects from her and he expects her to obey him, so when she doesn't and he realizes she not that submissive as he thought she was he is appalled. Waythorn is more upset because Alice did not foresee that he would be upset more than her lying. Waythorn realizes she has a side to her that will try to deceive him into believing she is submissive wife.
In contrast Elisa behavior in her marriage is questionable. Alice seems to be unfulfilled in her marriage. Henry, her husband doesn't value her, or appreciate the work she does with her chrysanthemums. This makes her more vulnerable in the encounter with the tinker. When the tinker comes and indulges in her Chrysanthemums the reader sees Alice lighten up, compared to her conversation with her husband. For example, Steinbeck States, "She was kneeling on the ground looking up at him. Her breast swelled passionately... Elissa's voice grew husky" (1873). While Alice is in the midst of pouring out her passion for her chrysanthemums, she starts to feel more feminine, she is able to share her passion with someone who she believes cares about her work. When the tinker describes the flowers romantically and admires them, he renews Elisa's feelings of sexuality and femininity. Steinbeck adds, "Kneeling there, her hand went out toward his legs in the greasy black trousers" (1873). In this moment, the tinker awakens sexual feelings inside Elisa. She becomes excited for him because he opens a new world for Elisa, one that she won't allow herself to have. Evans writes, "This satisfaction only lasts for a short time because Elisa realizes she is stepping out of the boundaries of her marriage. Unlike the tinker, Henry never enters her garden..." ( 241). Elisa is opening herself up to someone other than her husband, that is why at that moment, she draws her hand back as is if she committed adultery. This behavior for a wife is unacceptable in society. As a married woman Alice is supposed to only be committed, and show love to her husband.
Lastly, Alice uses her femininity to keep her social status, while gender inequality plays a substantial role in Elisa downfall. In The other Two Alice has used all her marriages as a stepping stone. In each marriage, she progress to a more efficient wealthier husband. Because women are seen as weak and need to be rescued, she used these sexist opinions to climb this social ladder. Alice progresses through the manipulation of others. She allows others to believe that she had been "rescued" from Mr. Haskett, thus gaining reputation by helping society accept her divorce (Wharton1525)After Waythorn meets the kind and modest Mr. Haskett, he realizes that he "...had been allowed to infer that Alice's first husband was a brute" (Wharton 1531)Alice was able to fool her husband into thinking her ex-husband were not reasonable men but in truth Alice most likely was the one who was unreasonable. He realizes that Alice is not the woman that he thought she was, He only saw her for her beauty but he did not take in account her intelligence and her ability to distort the truth. Through manipulating others' perceptions of her previous marriage, she was able to gain sympathy as she divorced and remarried in a time when this action was looked down upon. Waythorn describes his wife as a worn-out shoe that is easily bent, he fails to realize that she is resilient, she has been able to move from one relationship to another she has been able to keep her cool when faced with awkward situations regarding her two ex-husbands, she is sly like a fox. Alice in truth, is a promiscuous woman wants to advance her life. She does this with her beauty and her willingness to assume a false personality.
Contrary to Alice, Elisa's character is in a struggle for equality. In the beginning of this story she challenges her role as a simple woman by suggesting how good she would be if not better at doing manly task just like the tinker, in just a short moment the tinker tells her "that no life for a woman" discouraging her to ever break her shell of complicity. Sullivan writes, "When Elisa threatened to encroach upon male territory, she was rebuffed and shepherd back to the refuge of her submissive and unproductive place" (np). But because of fear and self-doubt she ultimately ends up crying like an old woman.
Gender inequality in marriage can either break a woman like Elisa, when faced with a male dominated society. Some women will give up on their dreams and assume a simple and unfulfilling life. Some women will be like Alice, and maneuver their way through life slyly, but remain in their place. Either way, marriage for women in their time was nothing but constraints to keep them complicit in society.
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Evans, Robert C. "The Chrysanthemums." Short Fiction: A Critical Companion, Jan. 1997, pp. 241-245. EBSCOhost,
McMichael, George and James S Leopard. "Concise Anthology of American Literature." United States Literary collections. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc., 2011. 1993-2007.
Skredsvig, Kari Meyers. "Women's Space, Women's Place: Topoanalysis in Steinbeck's 'The Chrysanthemums.'." Short Story Criticism, edited by Jelena O. Krstovic, vol. 135, Gale, 2010. Literature Resource Center,
Sullivan, Ernest W., II. "The Cur in 'The Chrysanthemums'." Literature Resource Center, Gale, 2017. Literature Resource Center, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=LitRC&sw=w&u=lln_abpcc&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CH1420022878&asid=9e0d22e407d55d164146c527ccafa7cd. Accessed 8 Nov. 2017. Originally published in Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 16, no. 3, summer 1979, pp. 215-217.