Identity, By Daniel Russell Essay

Identity, By Daniel Russell Essay

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Identity, including gender identity, is entangled in setting. Daniel Russell argues that whatever the influence, positive or negative, the place of the novel must be considered when assessing characterization1. I would argue that this is particularly true when it comes to the American landscape which, historically, has been key to the development of American culture. A country mythicized with statements such as ‘the streets are paved with gold’, is one where space and place are intricately linked with the identity of the place and the people in it. The role of place has historically asserted itself within the masculine identity of the male American ego, as something to alter and to dominate. As well as be altered by and dominated by. It is therefore important not to participate in the act of “pruning the greenery”2 as John Ruskin suggests, as so much of the novel’s worth lies within the descriptions of scenery and space. The following chapter will examine the ways in which Cather has entangled gender within the landscape of her novels, and as a result mired her characters within the landscape. Cather situates her characters position in the landscape, so much so that even the names she gives them places them in nature. By exploring this and how Cather conforms and deviates to gendered sublimes, in her novels My Antonia and The Professor’s House, this chapter will demonstrate how Cather situates her characters in ‘place’ and what the implications of her doing so are.

Gendered identity’s entrenchment in place is evident in Cather’s novel The Professor’s House. Throughout the novel she establishes the characters relationship to nature, and tethers them irrevocably to it through her naming. The names of the two main male characters, ...


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...enting Antonia’s physical appearance to us. For instance in one scene, early on in the novel, Jim describes Antonia’s eyes as being “like the sun shining on brown pools in the wood.”16 By relating her appearance to the “sun” and “the woods” Jim is drawing parallels between Antonia and the nurturing side of nature. The earthy tones set up her strong relationship with nature, one that remains constant throughout the novel - whereas Jim’s grows hypothetical as he gets older. This Romantic imagery is very similar to an element of the masculine sublime that Schrepfer describes, as it is with a sense of awe and poetry that Jim describes Antonia throughout. Therefore, once again women are associated with the physicality of nature. The effect of using these parallels, specifically earthy tones, “telegraph her [Antonia’s] ultimate (and triumphant) status as ‘earth mother’”.17

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