The Image of a Modern Man in Hemingway’s “The Chauffeurs of Madrid” and Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums” Essay

May 4, 2022 by Essay Writer


Both Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck are well-known American modernist authors of the twentieth century, whose works represent the urgent social issues of the era in which they lived. Protagonists created by the authors embody general perceptions of the modern man of that period, his or her dreams and aspirations, and internal struggles. Though from their subjective point of view, writers empower their protagonists with virtues that were respected at that time.

In The Chauffeurs of Madrid, Hemingway through Hipolo represents how a man should behave in the face of war, whereas in The Chrysanthemums, Steinbeck portrays the struggle of a modern woman for equality through Elisa. The given essay compares and contrasts the images of Elisa and Hipolito as people of the first half of the twentieth century.

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Both Elisa and Hipolito perform their work skillfully; it is highlighted that they are good at what they are doing. Hemingway depicts Hipolito as a diligent and punctual chauffeur by saying “and if you told him to show up at six a.m., he was there ten minutes before the hour” (289). Hipolito is calm and accurate, and “as solid as the rock he looked to be cut from”, which speaks to the quality of his character rather than the constitution (Hemingway 289).

Elisa, in turn, is an awesome gardener, which is reflected in her strong chrysanthemum crop. She approaches her gardening with exceptional energy, which indicates that she loves what she does. A particular appreciation of her gardening skills is expressed in her husband’s words “you’ve got a strong new crop coming” and “you’ve got a gift with things” (Steinbeck 2). Therefore, it may be assumed that both authors perceive a modern man to be good at his or her job.

However, Hemingway goes beyond the professional qualities of Hipolito and praises his bravery and courage by saying that when men like Hipolito fight they always win due to their resilience, fortitude, and perseverance (289). This is a turning point in the story, as Hipolito is no longer represented as a civilian chauffeur, but as a specimen of courage, valor, and persistence. Hemingway portrays him as “not romantic” and “not afraid to die”, claiming that people like Hipolito are the best ones of their time (289). Hipolito is the only one out of four chauffeurs who is a positive character with no shortcomings. Even though Hemingway does not overemphasize the virtues of his protagonist, the deeds through which he is portrayed eloquently illustrate that Hipolito is an idealized man.

Contrary to Hemingway’s protagonist whose feelings and emotions are not described in the story, Steinbeck presents a vivid and detailed picture of Elisa’s emotions in order to disclose her personality. In The Chrysanthemums, through Elisa, the struggle for gender equality is portrayed. The main theme of Steinbeck’s story is a capable yet vulnerable woman whose social and personal fulfillment is impossible due to the traditional conception of a woman’s role in a man dominated society.

In contrast to Hemingway who tells what a modern man should be like and what he should do, Steinbeck shows what a modern woman is, what internal struggle she has, and from what she suffers. Contrary to Hipolito, Elisa is an ordinary woman facing typical problems just like other females of that time. The fact that she wears a gardening costume making her figure “blocked and heavy” does not speak of her being repressed by the role her husband handed to her (Steinbeck 1).

Instead, she feels comfortable with her husband who seems to take care of her. What Elisa is oppressed with is social perceptions of what a woman should be and her own vision of herself. Steinbeck portrays Elisa as an ordinary woman of the first half of the twentieth century who feels frustrated in a masculine world and is unhappy with the traditional female role. When Elisa talks to a tinker, one may notice her deep desire to live in a world of adventure and freedom, especially when the man says that society would not allow that kind of thing.

However, Elisa is feminine, and the fact that she starts crying as she sees her flowers lying abandoned on the road speaks to her vulnerable nature. Though being strong and gifted, Elisa is a woman who does not want to be like a man. Rather, she wants to try doing what men do in order to discover new dimensions of herself and become more satisfied with her life. Contrary to Hipolito who is represented as a holistic person and whose deeds may be unambiguously interpreted, Elisa appears to be full of contradictions. Just like the chrysanthemums which have delicate and tender flowers yet strong and long stems, Elisa has both feminine and masculine traits making her feel undecided and oppressed.

It may be stated that Hemingway appraises his protagonist by saying that he would bet on Hipolito rather than Franco, or Mussolini, or Hitler (291). This final phase of The Chauffeurs of Madrid reiterates that Hipolito is what a modern man should be in the face of war, according to Hemingway. The attitude of Steinbeck to Elisa is neutral, as the author neither sympathizes nor criticizes her. One may state that Elisa is an average modern woman who, though desiring to behave like a man, cannot let go of her femininity.


In summary, being indisputable giants of twentieth-century literature, in their works, Hemingway and Steinbeck depict an image of a modern man. In The Chauffeurs of Madrid, through Hipolito, Hemingway represents how a modern man should behave in wartime. In The Chrysanthemums, through Elisa, Steinbeck portrays the internal struggles and contradictions of an ordinary modern woman, as she discovers both feminine and masculine sides.

Works Cited

Hemingway, Ernest. Hemingway on War. Edited by Sean Hemingway, Simon & Schuster, 2012.

Steinbeck, John. The Long Valley. Edited by John H. Timmerman, Penguin Books, 1995.

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