Female Agency and Marginalization in My Ántonia Essay

Female Agency and Marginalization in My Ántonia Essay

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Female agency is a significant topic of exploration in Cather’s My Ántonia, as throughout the novel many female characters display dominance within their small community in ways ranging from household management and finances, to making individual life choices. This type of personal agency is particularly impactful, given the typically restrictive and traditional mindset that is associated with nineteenth century towns such as the one depicted in the novel, particularly in regard to women. Interestingly, the women who are portrayed as having and enacting agency in the novel are the immigrant girls, particularly Ántonia and Lena. Each of these characters occupy the space of the social “other” in the American landscape; not only are they female, they also come from large immigrant families that are on the lower end of the socio-economic scale. However, in response to these obstacles, both Ántonia and Lena manage to gain agency within their circumstances. Through acts such as youthful rebellion, choosing whether they wish to marry or not, and eventually making independent career choices the experience of social marginalization proves to be a useful tool in the lives of these women, ultimately providing the motivation and means through which to achieve autonomy that results in subjective success; indicating that for Cather, female agency and freedom are both imminent and ultimately positive evolutions in the growth of American culture.
To begin, both Lena and Ántonia begin in somewhat dire circumstances as they are young, financially poor, female immigrants in a foreign country, which places them in a position of the social “other”. However, it is their marginalization that provides the conditions and motive that progress these you...


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... women represent the American experience. Individuals immigrate to this land of opportunity, much like Ántonia, Lena and their families, and try to reinvent or better themselves socio-economically. This struggle to achieve a better quality of life is one of the notions that America was founded upon; pioneers forming a new life for themselves on their own terms. However, in this case it is women pioneering toward a sense of social equality, and Cather displays this with an archetypal and even exaggerated case of marginalization that progresses into success and self-realisation; ultimately arguing that America should be, if it is not already, a place where everyone can experience social freedom and choice, including women, as it can be the growth of society generally.



Works Cited

Cather, Willa. My Ántonia. United States: Oxford University Press Inc., 2006. Print.

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