My Antonia Essay: Contrasts between the Hired Girls and the Black Hawk Women

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Contrasts between the "Hired Girls" and the Black Hawk Women in My Antonia

Willa Cather draws a stark contrast between the respectable women of Black Hawk and the “hired girls” in books II and III of My Antonia through Jim’s unavoidable attachment to them. The “hired girls” are all immigrants who work in Black Hawk as servants to help support their families in the country. They are hardworking and charming. They are simple and complicated. They are sad and joyful. They work all day and dance all night. For Jim they are the most interesting people who reside in Black Hawk. The respectable women are boring and predictable. They all go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. Their
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Perhaps because they had “learned so much from life, from poverty, from their mothers and grandmothers” and because they had “been early awakened and made observant by coming at a tender age from an old country to a new” (Cather 127). These girls show the readers how beneficial hard work and poverty can be to a person. They were made strong because of the obstacles that they had overcome, and they were beautiful for this. Jim is able to put their abstract pleasantness into words by equating them with poetry. Somehow, the unique environment that these girls grew up under has made them into the poetry that they are.

The respectable women of Black Hawk represent life in town. They can be equated with the woman in the rest of America. Their lives seem to be based on duty and responsibility. They are submissive to their husbands and concern themselves with the sphere of the home. Most of them know and respect their place as women. For Jim, they represent the duties of adulthood while the hired girls represent the joys of childhood.

One of the hired girls, Lena Lingard, is used as an ironic contrast to Antonia. While Antonia is portrayed as strong and solid, Lena is portrayed as easy-going and permissive. Lena is scorned in Black Hawk as an easy woman because of an alleged event while she lived in the country. Ironically, though, it is Lena whose future seems promising after Book III. She has moved to Lincoln where she runs a successful
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