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My Antonia Essay: Role of Women

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Role of  Women in My Antonia


 The role of the women in My Antonia as the showcased laborers and workers in the new community does not, certainly, alleviate the questions of patriarchal influence offered in the discussions of gender. Certainly, the fact that Ántonia is deprived of the education she longs for and yet cannot have, because it is she who is responsible for her family's success--"'School is all right for little boys. I help make this land one good farm'" (94)--cannot be seen as entirely good, if we agree that "the value of education is among the greatest of all human values" (Woolf 45); and in spite of her protests to the contrary, the bitter recognition of exclusion brings Ántonia to tears. However, recognizing the women's relationship to the development of national culture does suggest some alternative readings to the conclusions often reached, even as Ántonia's sacrifice of her own education does not exclude the contribution she makes to American culture, as we shall see.

     Recognition of nation-construction effects our reading of the play of gender in the text. One such instance is in the case of narrative authority, which has frequently been cited as Jim's patriarchal subsuming of Ántonia, as we have seen. While Jim appends the "my" to his transcription of Ántonia's history, however, it is worth reiterating that Ántonia is never, in fact, Jim's; rather, his possessive "My" reflects a failed attempt at possession, as his amorous advances were firmly rebuffed and as the adult Ántonia never seeks his assistance or support. At the same time, that the tale is proffered via an anonymous female narrator further undermines Jim's narrative authority, for his masculine presumption to speak for Ántonia undergoes...


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...hts the unconstructedness of the American frontier and the central role of women in forging a community, and by extension in negotiating a fledgling national consciousness. Through the subversion of Jim Burden's narrative authority and a disrespect for gender delineations, Cather emphasizes the constructedness of patriarchal norms, highlighting their irrelevance to successful cultural consciousness. Finally, through Ántonia's final assumption of a nurturing role, she assumes not a passive feminine identification or a sudden retreat into traditional female roles. Rather, Ántonia becomes emblematic of the women who forged the frontier community in their own image, infusing it with their own ethnicities and resisting the hegemonizing impulse of the tangle of norms we now know as the American nation.

Works Cited:

Cather, Willa. My Antonia. Boston: Houghton, 1977.


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