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My Antonia Essay: Women on the Frontier

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Women on the Frontier in My Ántonia

 

In 1891, marking the elimination of "free land," the Census Bureau announced that the frontier no longer existed (Takaki, A Different Mirror, 225).  The end of the frontier meant the constant impoverishment, instead of the wealth they had dreamed of, for a large number of immigrants from the Old World: they came too late.  My Ántonia, however, illuminates another frontier, a frontier within America that most immigrants had to face.  It was the frontier between "Americans" and "foreigners."  The immigrants were still "foreign" to the "Americans" who came and settled earlier.  They had to overcome the language and cultural barrier and struggle against the harsh conditions of life. The novel focuses on the ironic moment that the frontier spirit - a   uniquely American one - is realized through "foreigners." Furthermore, it is women, the "hired girls," who are put in the foreground in the novel.  What has made America is the foreign within, or rather, the foreign women on the frontier.

 

            The division between the "Americans" and the "foreigners" is found throughout the novel. Even though naturalized, immigrants are still "Bohemians," "Russians," "Norwegians," and so on.  They are foreigners in conception as Jim Burden's grandmother says, "If these foreigners [Norwegians] are so clannish, Mr. Bushy, we'll have to have an American graveyard that will be more liberal-minded...."(emphasis mine 73).  According to her, the demarcation between foreigners and Americans is purely cultural: as far as foreigners are not clannish and liberal-minded like "Americans...


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...an: the heterogeneity within one Bohemian-American family.  Children learn Bohemian, the parents' mother tongue, first, and English when they go to school. They eat both American and Bohemian food.  Mother from country and father from city, children are open to a wide experience than their parents.  Ántonia's first daughter, although married and left the house, is another significant heterogeneity of the family. 

 

As the first Mormons scattered sunflowers seeds on their ways to freedom, Ántonia, a woman on the frontier, has raised many future citizens of America.  Even though they claimed the end of the frontier, her children might confront another kind of frontier, but it is clear that it is not the same frontier on which their mother has had to stand.  The frontier comes back, but always in a different shape.



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