Iycee Charles de Gaulle Summary Female Protagonists Essay

Female Protagonists Essay


This analytical essay analyzes the female protagonists in Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums”, Hemmingway’s “Hills like White Elephants” and Paul’s mother in “The Rocking Horse Winner” and also presents information about their similarities and dissimilarities. The bibliography appends two sources in APA format.


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      This analytical essay as mentioned above throws light upon the female protagonists in Steinbeck’s `The Chrysanthemums`, Hemmingway’s `Hills Like White Elephants` and Paul’s mother in “The Rocking Horse Winner and also moves on to present similarities and dissimilarities between the three females. A protagonist is the main character in a novel, play, story etc. All three females that have been mentioned above have their own personalities which would be discussed further on.

Female Protagonist in Steinbeck’s `The Chrysanthemums`

     The Chrysanthemums is one of Steinbeck’s most studied and analyzed works, but the writing is extremely popular among the females. In his story, Steinback has presented Elisa Allen, a cattleman’s wife as a woman who constantly works very hard in order to reimburse for the dissatisfaction which she has come across in her life. Throughout the short story, Steinbeck has made it clear that Elisa is a woman who desires for something extra ordinary, apart from the everyday routines of farm life which she has to carry out. Written in a decade when women were being highly oppressed, Steinback has portrayed Elisa as a woman who struggles in vain in order to escape the oppression that women suffered back then at large. Elisa has been defined as a woman who never gained much attention from her own husband, and she ends up giving all her love and care to her Chrysanthemums. One fine day, after her husband Henry leaves, she one again gets busy with her flowers when suddenly a tinker stops by. First she denies having any pots for him to mend, but then when he appreciates her flowers she allows him to fix her pans just because she feels appreciated by him. In the beginning her appearance has been defined by the author as, “Her face was lean and strong and her eyes were as clear as water. Her figure looked blocked and heavy in her gardening costume, a man’s black hat pulled low down over her eyes, clod-hopper shoes, a figured print dress almost completely covered by a big corduroy apron with four big pockets to hold the snips, the trowel and scratcher, the seeds and the knife she worked with. She wore heavy leather gloves to protect her hands while she worked” (Steinback, 1938), a complete manly attire, which portrays her desire to be different. But when the tinker leaves, “She tore off her soiled clothes and flung them into the corner. 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. When she had dried herself she stood in front of a mirror in her bedroom and looked at her body. She tightened her stomach and threw out her chest. She turned and looked over her shoulder at her back. After a while she began to dress, slowly. She put on her newest underclothing and her nicest stockings and the dress which was the symbol of her prettiness. She worked carefully on her hair, penciled her eyebrows and rouged her lips.” (Steinback, 1938), or in short acted like a true woman. She feels very strong, stronger than ever before because of her new sense of being appreciated, but on her way to dinner with her husband, her strength, her new found courage and power gets crushed as she sees the sprouts she had given to the tinker lying in the middle of the road. The story ends by saying, “She turned up her coat collar so he could not see that she was crying weakly–like an old woman”, showing that Elisa had lost all her self-belief and sense of worth.

Female Protagonist in Hemmingway’s `Hills Like White Elephants`

      In this short story, Hemmingway has put forward the story of a couple that finds it hard to communicate with each other in an extremely troubled relationship. The girl always goes ignored by her boy friend, who always wants the girl to do things his way. In this story, “The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building” (Hemingway, 1991), and while being there the girl, whose name is Jig, comments on the hills in the surroundings, and how she thinks they look like white elephants. As always, her boyfriend completely ignores her and whenever she talks about the hills, he simply changes the subject to one of his own interest. The girl is pregnant and the boy wishes to get the baby aborted, but Jig is not sure as to what she wants. Jig’s boyfriend is least understanding, wants everything his way and does not care about Jig’s feelings. Throughout the story it is obvious that Jig wants to do something apart from her and her boyfriend’s usual routine like having a family and acting like a woman, but all her wishes are suppressed by her boyfriend. Eventually, as her boyfriend makes it clear that the baby would be a nuisance in their lives; she suppresses her desires and decides to abort it (Hemmingway, 1927).

Paul’s mother in “The Rocking Horse Winner”

     In the rocking horse winner, the author has portrayed Paul’s mother as a woman who is obsessed with maintaining a certain life style, but faces set backs because of financial issues that have left her family in very bad circumstances. She always had a feeling that her children do not love her and she herself also felt no love for them, but still she remained strong while considering herself unlucky (Lawrence, 2004).

Similarities and dissimilarities

     All three women that have been described above do not face suppression. One faces suppression by her husband, the other by her boyfriend, but although no such aspect of suppression is apparent in the story, the third woman perhaps faces so by the kind of circumstances that her financial setback has created for us. In all three stories the suppression leads the women into taking care of things other than their partners or in Paul’s mother’s case, her children for whom she believes she cannot build love in her heart. Paul’s mother perhaps is the one most different amongst all three women. She is very materialistic, while the other two women search for happiness in the smallest things. The other two women only face suppression throughout the stories, although they at times feel strong enough to break through but eventually their strength and new found courage crashes into the ground. The women in Steinbeck and Hemmingway’s stories have tarred relationships wit h their companions, but Paul’s mother herself has destroyed her entire family because of her greed. Paul’s mother clearly expresses her desires, while the other two women have always had to suppress theirs. While the women in Steinbeck and Hemmingway’s stories suppressed their desires and put up with their companions so as to save their relationships, Paul’s mother ended up losing him and during his illness his mother realized the love she has for him.


     In the light of the above discussion, we can hereby culminate that the women in Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums” and Hemmingway’s “Hills like White Elephants” are very alike each other as both of them face the same kind of suppression by their companions, but Paul’s mother in Lawrence’s “The Rocking Horse Winner” is totally different as she is a materialistic woman who does not have any love for her family.


Hemmingway, E. (1927). Men without Women. United States of America. Simon and Schuster. ISBN: 0684825864.

Lawrence, D. (2004). The Rocking Horse Winner. United States of America. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN: 1419180835

Steinbeck, J. (1938). The Chrysanthemums. Retrieved on December 10, 2006 from: http://amb.cult.bg/american/4/steinbeck/chrysanthemums.htm