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My Antonia Essay: The Character of Lena Lingard

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The Character of Lena Lingard in My Antonia   

 
      Lena Lingard is the best example of a non-domestic central character which appears amidst the domesticity of My Ántonia. Often the sections which feature Lena instead of Ántonia are seen as confusing divergences from the plot line of a novel that purports to be about the woman named in the title. However, since Lena appears in the novel almost as often as Ántonia, and more often than any other character except Jim, she is a central character. Lena is a working woman who refuses to accept the constraints society places upon her. Even when society predicts that by becoming a dressmaker instead of marrying she will fail and become a "loose" woman, she disrupts their expectations and succeeds.

 

The first image of Lena in the novel is as newly arrived, pseudo-sophisticated country girl who has come to town to learn the trade of dressmaking. However, from the beginning of our knowledge of Lena she is anti-domestic. Lena recognizes that marriage is difficult-- she is never caught up in the "idea" of romance which leads Ántonia to a disastrous relationship and unwed motherhood. Ántonia takes the dances and socializing much more seriously and ends up in trouble, whereas Lena enjoys dancing and kissing but is merely having fun. When asked about her mother, Lena responds, "Oh, mother's never very well; she has too much to do. She'd get away from the farm, too, if she could" (Cather, 104). When Frances Harling teases Lena about a suitor who the town thinks Lena will marry, she responds, "I don't want to marry Nick, or any other man, . . . I've seen a good deal of married life, and I don't care for it" (105). It seems impossible for the town to believe that a beautiful gir...


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...c plot" limits and ignores the non-traditional female experience which is just as important to analyze. The Nan Princes, Lena Lingards and Tiny Solderalls of the fictional world deserve and demand critical attention not for what they don't do (the dishes) but for what they are-- working women.

 

Works Cited

Cather, Willa. My Antonia. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1995.

Gelfant, Blanche H. "The Forgotten Reaping Hook: Sex in My Antonia." Bloom's Modern Critical Views, 103-123.

Jewett, Sarah Orne. A Country Doctor. New York: The Penguin Group. 1986.

Romines, Ann. The Home Plot: Women, Writing & Domestic Ritual. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press. 1992.

Weiner, Lynn Y. From Working Girl to Working Mother: The Female Labor Force in the United States, 1820-1980. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. 1985.

 


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