Astronomer’s Wife versus Chrysanthemums
The marital relationship is a contentious subject that has always been swayed by various trends with time. Different generations have emerged to view marital relationships differently depending on the existing circumstances. At the mere mention of the subject, anyone who has read the works of Kay Boyle, The Astronomer’s Wife and John Steinbeck The Chrysanthemums can easily debate on the different approaches that could be linked to the subject. The two authors, though writing on a similar thematic concern, present completely diverse viewpoints and build their characters distinctively. The two narratives showcase interesting views of the lives of typical couples living in ordinary environments. Both females and males in the narratives represent different views on marital relationships. Although the two stories open up and end in different notes and unique styles, they both end up giving clear pictures of the characters. Boyle and Steinbeck creatively device varied approaches to explain the disparity between the females’ and males’ views of marital relationships; however, an in-depth study of the two works would definitely lead to the conclusion that the two authors present a woman as a vessel bound by the society.While Boyle in his story directly introduces the reader to the life of Mrs. Aimes, Steinbeck opens his story by a metaphorical description of the character of Elisa Allen. Mrs. Aimes in The Astronomers’ Wife wakes up, as usual, leaving her husband on the bed, “The astronomer was still asleep or feigning it, and she, once out of bed, had come into her own possession” (Boyle 1). Elisa in The Chrysanthemums, on the other hand, is first described symbolically. Steinbeck writes, “The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and all the rest of the world” (Steinbeck 1). The statement of the fact that it is winter in Salinas Valley and the sun is not shining symbolizes the life of Elisa throughout the story. Just like the valley is covered by fog, Elisa’s life is darkened by the mysteries of her relationship with his husband. Steinbeck’s story is characterized by excessive symbolism, unlike Boyle’s work which gives direct details of the characters. Although the two works appeal to the emotions and feelings of the readers, Steinbeck leaves much space for the readers to think about the characters.
The women in the two stories share almost similar qualities. Both Elisa and Mrs. Aimes are at their best ages and lead almost similar lives. They are hardworking wives and loyal to their husbands, and they are struggling to eliminate the dullness in their marriages. They cry for attention from their spouses. However, Elisa appears to be stronger than Mrs. Aimes. When described in her garden attire, Elisa appears more masculine than feminine. “Her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume, a man’s black hat pulled low down over her eyes” (Steinbeck). Despite these, the two women find means to cover the unhappiness surrounding their lives. Mrs. Aimes finds satisfaction in performing the silliest house chores at their home. Elisa finds comfort in the garden raising Chrysanthemums.Both Boyle and Steinbeck present female characters as beings bound by the dictates of the societies that they live in. The two women in the stories tirelessly seek recognition from their male counterparts. In The Chrysanthemums, the struggle for liberation from the societal dictates is portrayed by Elisa Allen. Elisa acts like a strong and capable woman who can readily take up the roles played by men. She is however kept from her social, sexual and personal fulfillment by the conception held by the men in her environment. Elisa is dissatisfied with the traditional view of femininity and resolves to acting defiantly by extending her roles to masculine areas. Katherine Aimes acts obediently to her husband who always ignores her presence. From the way Aimes acts, she wants her husband to recognize her. She feels belittled due to the constant silence portrayed by her husband, “He was a man of other things, a dreamer” (Boyle 1). Despite her dissatisfaction, she continues respecting her line of duty and remains purposeful. From the two stories, it can easily be observed that according to the societal constructs, women are beings who do not necessarily require an appreciation for their diligent work. However much they try to please their male counterparts; their desire is never fulfilled.
The two stories portray the females as a gender that is in a constant struggle to seek approval from men. Both Elisa and Mrs. Aimes are dissatisfied simple because the men in their lives do not recognize their efforts. The two lead gloomy lives because the people they work towards pleasing do not get moved by their actions. After realizing that they must live within their social construct, the two women decide to endure their social roles. At the beginning, Elisa assumes masculine roles, dresses like a man and desires to be involved in male conversations. In the end, she sheds tears, an action that is considered feminine. As such, she becomes a typical representative of the females during her time. Although Mrs. Aimes later finds her place in the world, she does not get the satisfaction rightfully. The natural divide between her and her husband does not end. Furthermore, she is not certain that the plumber will not turn out to be like her husband. Ideally, the women in the story accept the “inevitable defeat that they must endure their constructed social roles.”While Elisa’s husband recognizes her effort, Mrs. Ames’ husband remains silent all through. When Henry gets good returns from the sale, he offers to take her out. He also commends her for the strong Chrysanthemum crop. Elisa is indeed impressed by her husband’s description of the crop. According to her thinking, the word ‘strong’ is masculine. Even though Elisa does not attain the fulfillment that she could have desired, she at least pleased when her husband states that she is strong. Mrs. Ames, on the other hand, does not hear anything pleasing from her husband. As a result, she decides to try the plumber as she thinks he could be different from her husband. Boyle’s story ends in an optimistic note unlike that of Steinbeck which ends with the protagonist shedding tears. Steinbeck’s ending appears to be more realistic and socially conscious. Realistically, the gender roles are not only societal constructs but rather natural dictates that govern human life.
Conclusively, both Steinbeck and Boyle succeed in persuading their audiences to buy their viewpoints on the issue of marital relationships. The two authors creatively craft their narratives not to appear gender biased although dealing with a sensitive gender issue. However, Steinbeck’s point of view seems more social conscious and convincing. Steinbeck ensures that Henry recognizes Elisa’s efforts. Sensibly, any audience would easily identify with the female characters and would definitely want them to be comforted by the people they spend their lives pleasing. Overall, the two narratives are ideal for widening one’s scope of knowledge on the matters of marital relationships.