Women always had to deal with all kinds of situations throughout history. Sex was becoming to be a woman’s way of expressing herself and in a way have control over certain situation Edith Wharton’s “Summer” and John Steinbeck’ s “The Chrysanthemums” show two characters (both of them women) struggling between societys rules and laws and their own believes and desires. Both stories were written in the beginning of the 20th century and both authors made it very clear that the women’s thoughts were unacceptable. While Charity Loyal in “Summer” had the ability to satisfy herself sexually with a city boy and go as far as she could be her desires.
Elisa Allen in “Chrysanthemums” fantasized about the idea of being with another man, but did not take her thoughts into action. Both, however, seem to look in nature the answer for the constant struggle to achieve freedom. This theme, like sex, is renowned all throughout the stories. Wharton decides to start the story with a description of the town where Charity Royall lives. She says, “A little wind moved among the round white clouds on the shoulder of the hills, driving their shadows across the fields and down the grassy road that takes the name of the street when it passes through North Dormer.
The place lies high and in the open, and lacks the lavish shade of the more protected New England Villages” (91). North Dormer seems to be a very peaceful place. The description gives a tone of calmness and happiness. This is very important for Charity, since she has an especial connection to nature all through out the story. When she is looking to free herself from North Dormer, Galante Gonzalez, 2 she looks for it in nature. After a long day working in the library (where Charity is usually by herself), Wharton shows how happy Charity becomes once she is able to leave and be outside with nature.
She says, “She loved the roughness of the dry mountain grass under her palms, the smell of the thyme into which she crushed her face, the fingering of the wind in her hair and through her cotton blouse, and the creak of the larches as he swayed to it” (98). Charity lies in the grass almost hugging it. She shows emotions toward the grass (nature) that make it seem almost like a person. Moments like this one, made her feel free for a few minutes and those minutes were the happiest of her life. There is also another time through the story where nature becomes important.
Cynthia Bily, who wrote a critical essay on Summer says, “At the Jewelry store, where she [Charity] sees jewelry close up for the first time, she is attracted to a ‘a gold lily-of-the-valley with white flowers’–an understandable attraction for a woman who loves the natural world as much as she does. ” Charity chooses the brooch that represents her. This, however, not only shows Charity admiration and love for nature, but Harney’s ability to “buy” Charity’s attention and eventually sexual intimacy. The Brooch place an important part in the story.
We can see all the characteristics in Elisa. Steinbeck starts his novel by describing the setting of Salinas Valley, “On the foothill ranches across the Salinas River, the yellow stubble fields seemed to be bathed in a pale cold sunshine, but there was no sunshine in the valley now in December” (1874). Even though this story takes place during the winter and “Summer” during the summer, the short story also has a tone of happiness and calmness. Elisa also has a very interesting connection with mature. All she does is work in her garden.
When the man in the wagon asked about her chrysanthemums, she started to explain how to take care of them. To show the man how important gardening and nature was for her, she mentioned her planting hands. Since he did not know what that meant, she explained it to him by saying, “It’s when you’re picking off the buds you don’t want  you watch your fingers work. They do it themselves. You can fell how it is” (1878). She is one on one with nature. She knows how to treat the grass and is able to take all the buds without hurting it.
In the beginning of the story she also said how when someone has planting hands, they know how to plant anything just right. Another important statement that both authors, Wharton and Steinbeck, make is the desires and thoughts of both women to be sexual. Charity and Elisa expressed a sexual desire towards men of different classes. In “Summer” Charity is in love Harney (a gentleman from the city). She hides her feelings because she does not know how people in North Dormer are going to react towards them together.
She also saw herself as a mountain girl and could not see someone like her being with someone like him. After seeing Harney for the first time, she remembered her first trip to Nettleton and because of Galante Gonzalez, 4 this she remembered where she was from the mountain. Wharton says, “Charity was not very clear about the Mountain; but she knew it was a bad place, and a shame to have come from, and that, whatever befell her in North Dormer, she ought, as Miss Hatchard had once reminded her, to remember that she had been brought down from there, and hold her tongue and be thankful”(93).
People in North Dormer saw people from the Mountain as savages, with no education or manners. Charity left like one of them and blamed all her “crazy” decisions at her place of birth. Cynthia Bily explains one of the reasons why Charity had a “cold” attitude towards her love for Harney. She says, “At the turn of the twentieth century there were strict social prohibitions against a gentleman giving a lady clothing or jewelry. An unmarried woman who received clothing from a man was consider to be no better than she should be,’ a woman of loose morals.
This shows that even if Charity was not from the Mountain, she would of have a hard time admitting her relationship with Harney. On the same page Bily says, “Young women like Charity Royall in Edith Wharton’s Summer had few means outside marriage for leading satisfying lives: denied higher education, professional carriers, even the right to participate in government, they relied on husbands to advance them socially and economically. ” When charity founds out that she is pregnant, she wants to go back to the Mountain because she feels there the rules of society are not important.
During the early 1900’s sex outside marriage was frowned upon and getting pregnant was even worse. Young unmarried girls/women who became pregnant were encouraged to give their babies up for adoption and generally believe to have brought disgrace on their family (“sex”). Once there, she founds out her mother is dead, but finally Galante Gonzalez, 5 goes back to North dormer when she marries Mr. Royall. She knows that by marring him she will be safe from society. In contrast, Elisa in “Chrysanthemums” is married to Henry and seems to be happy with him.
We are able to see her become very sexual when the man in the wagon asked about her garden. He had asked to have some of her Chrysanthemums and while she was explaining to him what to do, Steinbeck wrote, “She was kneeling on the ground looking up at him. Her breast swelled passionately (1879). ” She seems to be very attractive to the man, maybe because he showed some kind of interested or maybe because, like Charity, the differences in their social class make him more attractive. As time went on, she became more interested in the man’s life and job and finally she gives him something for him to fix.
This shows how their relationship and herself changed throughout the story. When she is going to the city with her husband, she sees a black spot on the road. She knows what that spot is (the flowers that she gave the man), she is so angry she asked her husband if they can go to the fight. Gregory Palmerino describes her actions by saying, “with the shock of this realization, the fights now appeal to Elisa. Unfortunately, she cannot bring herself to go to the fight. Wine with dinner ‘will be plenty. ‘ Alcohol will ease the pain, perhaps. ” She is upset, there was obviously
These two women deal with the oppression imposed by society during the turn of the century. But their desires and emotions are stronger than what people thought at the time. For Charity, her love for nature allowed her to feel free. Eventually she loses all of that when she becomes pregnant and marries Mr. Royall. For Elisa, the struggle of wanted Galante Gonzalez, 6 to be like man did not give her a sense of freedom, only when she is working in her garden. She, like Charity, never completely achieved her freedom by the end of the story.