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
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The role of the women in My Antonia as the showcased laborers and workers in the new community does not, certainly, alleviate the questions of patriarchal influence offered in the discussions of gender above. Certainly, the fact that Antonia is deprived of the education she longs for and yet cannot have, because it is she who is responsible for her family's success--"'School is all right for little boys. I help make this land one good farm'" (94)--cannot be seen as entirely good, if we agree that "the value of education is among the greatest of all human values" (Woolf 45); and in spite of her protests to the contrary, the bitter recognition of exclusion brings Antonia to tears. However, recognizing the women's relationship to the development of national culture does suggest some alternative readings to the conclusions often reached, even as Antonia's sacrifice of her own education does not exclude the contribution she makes to American culture, as we shall see.

Recognition of nation-construction effects our reading of the play of gender in the text. One such instance is in the case of narrative authority, which has frequently been cited as Jim's patriarchal subsuming of Antonia, as we have seen. While Jim appends the "my" to his

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