Mary Teller's Women

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Man does not control his own fate; the women in his life do that for him” (“Groucho Marx”). Unusual for this time period, the women in Steinbeck’s stories take control over their own destinies and are able to manipulate their husbands’ lives. Mary Teller in the “White Quail” comes across as the typical genteel woman from Steinbeck’s time, yet she is wily. The domestic tyrant who dominates her husband is embodied by Emma in “The Harness.” “The Chrysanthemums” has the strong, masculine character of Elisa. The women in the stories view themselves as superior to their husbands. In all of Steinbeck’s stories, the woman selects the traditional feminine activity of gardening as an expressive outlet, and the dedication and approach in which each undertakes…show more content…
Mary Teller in the “White Quail” is seen as a ruthless and egotistical character. She has this outward appearance of feminine frailty. Harry, her husband, is blinded of her mastery by her delicacy and beauty. She controls him with her sexuality as “she let him kiss her” (Steinbeck 18). She torments Harry by locking their bedroom door at night, not letting him in, yet he still tries the door every night hopeful that she will let him in. He is only allowed to touch her when she permits him to. Harry admits that he is afraid of her and her “untouchability” (Steinbeck 19). “Personification of the garden reveals that to Mary it is a child whose step-father she must carefully select with only a secondary interest in the man’s desirability as a husband” (Hughes 157). In deciding whether to marry Harry, “She didn’t think so much, ‘Would this man like such a garden?’ but, ‘Would the garden like such a man?”(Steinbeck 17). Mary persuaded him to buy the land, build the house, and her dream garden before she would marry him. Mary’s garden is threatened by animals and bugs. She is merciless about killing the dangers and protecting her baby. She asks Harry to kill the cat that imperils the white quail, which she…show more content…
Emma was sick most of the time and “When she was ill, Peter had to do all the housework”(Steinbeck 72). Although Emma was sick she still controlled everything and the house was always in great condition. “The immediate yard was fenced, and in the garden, under Emma’s direction, Peter raised button dahlias and immortelles, carnations, and pinks” (Steinbeck 73). The garden was still hers, the way she wanted it, even though she never actually worked on it. “Peter Randall was one of the most highly respected farmers of Monterey County”(Steinbeck 72) and thats because “she made a good man” (Steinbeck 77) of him. She makes her husband wear an uncomfortable harness and practically trained him like a dog. For one week a year, Emma claimed he went on a business trip, yet it was actually a reprieve Emma granted him during which he goes wild and is not a good man. She controls him so well during the rest of the year that no one has any inclination as to his bad tendencies during his “business trip.” When Emma died, Peter was crying hysterical then he went insane. The doctor and undertaker had to drug him in order to take her corpse away. The next day he was calm, smiling, and drinking to her death. He removed his harness and was glad to be free from her. Peter recognizes her power over him, “I don’t know how she got me to do things, but she did”

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