My Antonia Essay: The Role of Women

My Antonia Essay: The Role of Women

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The Role of Women in My Antonia  

   In her novel, My Antonia, Cather represents the frontier as a new nation. Blanche Gelfant notes that Cather "creat[ed] images of strong and resourceful women upon whom the fate of a new country depended" . This responsibility, along with the "economic productivity" Gilbert and Gubar cite (173), reinforces the sense that women hold a different place in this frontier community than they would in the more settled areas of America.


     One manner in which this unusual place can be seen is in the women's privileged relationship to the land in the text. While Jim Burden attends school, it is Antonia who shapes and works the new land that the pioneers inhabit, going "from farm to farm" to fill the need for agricultural hands (111). While Otto and Jake fill this need early in the text, it is predominantly Antonia's cultivation of the land that is followed throughout the remainder of the text. Similarly, the concrete contributions of the "hired girls" stand in pointed contrast to the invisible and/or passive employment of male characters such as Mr. Harling.


     In the same way, Jim recognizes that it is the "hired girls" like Antonia who will form the backbone of the society when the next generation comes: "the girls who once worked in Black Hawk kitchens are to-day [sic] managing big farms and fine families of their own; their children are better off than the children of the women they used to serve" (150-1). These assertions--of the women's direct involvement of the development of the region, both agriculturally and socially--highlight an important point: "it is insufficient to think of nationalism affecting gender in a one-way relationship" (Walby 237). In other words,...

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...Own: Attitudes Toward Women in Willa Cather's Short Fiction." Modern Fiction Studies 36:1 (Spring 1990): 81-89.

Mosse, George. Nationalism and Sexuality: Respectability and Abnormal Sexuality in Modern Europe. New York: Howard Fertig, Inc., 1985.

Ryan, Maureen. "No Woman's Land: Gender in Willa Cather's One of Ours." Studies in American Fiction 18 (Spring 1990): 65-75.

Summers, Claude J. "'A Losing Game in the End': Aestheticism and Homosexuality in Cather's 'Paul's Case.'" Modern Fiction Studies 36:1 (Spring 1990): 103-119.

Walby, Sylvia. "Woman and Nation." Mapping the Nation. ed. Gopal Balakrishnan. New York: Verso, 1996. 235-254.

Woolf, Virginia. Three Guineas. London: Hogarth Press Ltd., 1938.

Wussow, Helen. "Language, Gender, and Ethnicity in Three Fictions by Willa Cather."

Women and Language 18 (Spring 1995): 52-5.




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