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Once anonymously said, “If you aren’t happy single, you won’t be happy taken. Happiness comes from within, not from men” (Pinterest.com). For countless generations, marriage has remained an admiring, romanticizing obligation for a woman’s life, claiming to create abundance and cheerfulness to all accepting the vow into their lifestyle, yet not all gladness or satisfaction for women comes from loyalty to a man, which My Antonia reveals. As a prevalent female novelist and tranquil feminist, Willa Cather composes the regional episodic novel, My Antonia, not only to portray the image of average people from the American West, along with the settling immigrants but also to construct an understood platform for the strong females of independence, commanding their own lives with perseverance.
Cather’s novel is able to depict the qualities of her feminine characters through themes of spirit and courage in the frontier, undergoing hardships through different lifestyles, either on the rough farm or the hectic town, in their pursuit of triumph and euphoria.
In My Antonia, some women believe marriage is the only way to obtain contentment; but for other women, happiness comes from being independent, having the ability to support themselves and their loved ones and being a testimony to strength apart from marriage.
In order for a woman to undergo joy and affluence in her lifetime, she must have the entitlement to take charge of the different areas of her life, while having the freedom and independence to maintain matters in which she pleases.
Being able to be self-sufficient and liable is how several of the female characters in My Antonia feel toward a life of their own and realize the interference a commitment to marriage will have on their serenity. In fact, Lena Lingard’s ironic response of marriage to Jim comes as a surprises as she tells him:
‘Why, I’m not going to marry anybody. Didn’t you know that?”
“Nonsense, Lena. That’s what girls say, but you know better. Every handsome girl like you marries, of course.”
She shook her head. “Not me.’ (Cather 216)
Admittedly, Lena persists in her beliefs against marriage even after Jim attempts to convince her to take into account all her other friends who marry; she wants to prove to Jim her capability in preserving her spirit of delight and ease without being in a marital relationship. She demonstrates resilient trust in her self-reliance by preventing influential claims of satisfaction from other girls who marry; the supposable denial of liberty and independence is not a way of living she desires. The individuality Lena craves [to exist in] sets her apart from girls who seek happiness in a man. She seeks to be successful in her future by discovering joy on her own. Another character who undertakes the unforeseen role to finding happiness through independence is none other than Antonia; her understanding of self-supporting pregnancy is retold by Mrs. Steavens, “That very night, it happened. She got her cattle home, turned them into the corral, and went into the house, into her room behind the kitchen, and shut the door. There, without calling to anybody, without a groan, she lay down on the bed and bore her child” (Cather 234).
Antonia, being very young and oblivious to the obligations of raising a child, opposes the pains of childbirth without receiving any assistance in the delivery of her baby; not a single person is with her to provide instruction to improve a safe arrival of her infant. She calmly goes into the house, weary from her hard day’s work on her family’s farm, lays down on her bed and silently, overwhelmingly gives birth to her daughter without falling apart in anguish. Through her vibrant thoughts of determination and uncertainty, she is able to give birth to a beautiful, healthy daughter who brings her joy and contentment in life, even without a husband. An additional example of Lena’s regard on her pursuit of happiness consists of different reasons on why ideas of marriage do not appeal to her, as she testifies, “They begin to tell you what’s sensible and what’s foolish, and want you to stick at home all the time” (Cather 216).
Clearly, Lena’s explanation presents her disfavor of a marriage where a women plays the part of losing her self-determining freedom. Her character seeks liberty and individuality apart from a matrimony of restriction; she sees a plan for her life which she believes a husband could not take part in. Lena passionately believes any man she would consider uniting with will begin to overly involve himself in her ambitions and intentions for her future. Her serenity and independence in life becomes more important to her than the thoughts of marrying under hindrance. Both women, without devoting to a spouse, share the desire or impression of sharing independence to pursue their own goals with fulfillment which similarly can be found in the skill of managing a single lifestyle for themselves and loved ones.
Considering the thought of supporting oneself as a women can be daunting, however some women strive and gain happiness down this path. Through the eyes of some women in My Antonia, a life of marriage does not contain enough appeal to sacrifice an independent life; thy desire to support themselves and their loved ones. After almost 20 years, both Lena and Tiny Soderball see their aspirations transform into reality and find satisfaction knowing their provisions were based on their own abilities as Jim expresses in their present lives:
Tiny lives in a house of her own and Lena’s shop is in an apartment house just around the corner. It interests me, after so many years, to see the two women together. Tiny audits Lena’s accounts occasionally, and inverts her money for her; and Lena, apparently takes care of her so Tiny doesn’t grow too miserably. “If there’s anything I can’t stand,” she said to me in Tiny’s presence, “it’s a shabby rich woman.” (Cather 241)
Before their adulthood, Tiny and Lena both dream to be successful in the future yet little do they realize the true success they will hold in establishing their own homes and business. Even more amazing and rare in this period of history is the fact that two women are able to create stability and independence by financially supporting themselves, never needing a man’s income. Surprisingly, Lena establishes a thriving business and even invests her money into her dressmaking business which is commonly unheard of during these times of women’s designation to housework. Lena is a great friend and business partner to Tina by keeping close eyes on her part of assistance but also minding her lack of physically caring for herself; Tiny has built a great foundation of income and money yet seems to have no spare time to tend to her personal needs because she becomes overwhelmed by her ability to succeed in her business.
Both women are able to assist each other in building up their businesses and happiness. Within quick changes of season, Antonia Shimerda is pregnant with her first child and must find a means to prepare for the baby on the way, so she decides to go back to her roots and work the grounds of her family farm, as Mrs. Steavens continues her story, “The next time I saw Antonia, she was out in the fields ploughing corn. All that spring and summer she did the work of a man on the farm; it seemed to be an understood thing” (Cather 232).
As a thoughtful observer, Mrs. Steavens witnesses, through a season’s change, the transformation of a juvenile, carefree girl to an unwed, pregnant young women, with no man at her side, undergoing toiling labor to secure a future for her baby. Antonia throws herself into the country land with the hopes of building a study foundation to nurture her daughter; not only does she make a change for the future of her baby but also fin support of herself, proving determination and happiness within her striving will to succeed.
In the spring, Antonia begins a new chapter in life where she will not only give birth to a child with challenging responsibilities but also birth a new life taking on motherhood. As her new chapter continues, she begins to grow in many different aspects of life throughout the summer, learning new life lessons applying to raising a child independently, with no father figure and pushing through the labor of men. Granted that Lena Lingard is an independent woman of strength, she has objectives and specifications which she aims for out of life, most importantly being able to provide and look after her family without the mandate under a man, “I’ve seen a good deal of married life, and I don’t care for it, I want to be so I can help my mother and the children at home, and not have to ask life of anybody” (Cather 122).
Here, Lena cannot stomach the suggestion of being in marriage or accepting an allegiance of wedlock over her head; her exposure of marriage through her parents and friends brings no attraction or care. She aspires to be on her own in order to return service to her struggling family by retaining a steady, respectable business and earn income for support. Lena feels if she has a husband, she would have to separate from her kin and live her life wrapped around her mate. The notion of existing beneath a command not of her family is infuriating and to abandon her bliss and treasure found amongst her generous family is by no means an option. As shown through the exhibition of their own support, women of strength work hard by focusing not on the struggles which paralyze them but on the determination fulfilling success and satisfaction, confirming no man can intensify their competence to be living proof in their evident power and strength.
The resilience dwelling in an independent woman, which offers absolute dignity, gladness and consummation does not emanate from a union between a husband and wife but within themselves. In fact, three womenfolk of My Antonia behold their testaments of physical, emotional and mental strength by having the ability to articulate their control as individuals and overcome adversities without a man in their life while still being able to find delight outside of their difficulties. For example, Frances Harling is a fierce, autonomous woman resembling qualities of success for a female, not permitting any person to underestimate or belittle her abilities, as Jim states, “Grandfather said Frances Harling was as good a judge of credits as any banker in the country. The two or three men who had tried to take advantage of her in a deal acquired celebrity by their defeat” (Cather 113).
As a result of her diligence, Frances becomes greatly known for her characteristics of trustworthiness and honesty; many value her as a banker and her capability to keep charge of money in a very protective, sharp and wise manner. Because of her character, Frances is eminent and happy for her supremacy and composure being able to thrive in a male dominant work force without the help of another income from a man; she also becomes recognized for her victory in defending her honor from malicious conmen. Through her triumph, she proves to being a better judge of character then men seem to be by suspecting deceit before a scam occurred and by showing a man’s judgement of a women before they knew what intelligence and fortitude lie in her. She portrays the clear message of how capable, independent women respond to mistreatment and do not allows themselves to be taken advantage of despite the gender bias society. In another instance of women’s strength, Mrs. Steavens sees Antonia undergo heartbreak and anguish, however remembers how determined Antonia becomes as she rises back on her feet and seizes responsibility and care for her baby and grows to be the admirable mother she is, “It’s a year and eight months old now, and no baby was ever better cared-for. Antonia is a natural-born mother” (Cather 235).
From the time Antonia’s daughter is born, Antonia’s outlook of value in life changes; her existence now orbits around the satisfaction and jewel of her life, her infant, which she must be resilient for and protect. She does not allow her former situation of abandonment and her title of unwed mother keep her from enjoying every moment of joy her little bundle brings her. Antonia is confirmation that the truth of misfortune does not bring a woman’s strength down; on the contrary, she finds sanctuary in the delight of raising her child and discovers deep within her a new hope in motherhood which no man can erase. In Antonia’s early adulthood, Mrs. Harling, her mistress, begins to see the change developing in Antonia, after her father passes away, perceiving the life shifting experience she is conforming to because of the challenges she meets, as Mrs. Harling proclaims, “But, dear me, what a life she’s led, out in the fields with those rough threshers! Things would have been very different with poor Antonia if her father had lived” (Cather 116).
The reality Antonia survives in now has her undertake humanity on her own and equips her in might and durability. Her father’s passing thrusts her into the unexpected position of taking on a male, fatherly role of strength for her family; she would continue living in safety and relief, attached to her father’s reliance if he had survived. Her father’s death allowed Antonia to embrace the masculine position that most women would never dream of holding, specifically, her family understands that responsibilities of their livelihood must be accomplished regardless of gender. Antonia knows no marriage, no man and cannot rely on a male figure to undertake certain jobs and stances in her life such as handling grueling harvesters with mentalities to manipulate her femininity and plantation; yet with strength, she shows her drive to keep her family’s farm safe. As seen through the challenges and discrimination women face, they are still able to fight back with stamina and live a life of happiness and prosperity, even without a commitment to marriage which the public eye can learn to respect and understand.
Living independently, supporting themselves and their loved ones and overcoming adversities through feminine strength indicates a woman’s life of individuality rather than in marital commitment, yet she is still able to hold an important role in society. In several ways, brave women of the early 1900’s create a remarkable example and serve as positive contributors for women of today’s society to follow, demonstrating genuine self-reliance, diligence and resilience. The passionate women of My Antonia have battled and overcame more struggles and more trials than most women of today have in their lifetime; their victories, which are found in determination and grit, transform into hope for the future female forces of new generations in search of confidence and happiness out of life.
Women now have no requirement to marry a man for the security of their joy or victory because of the capability to achieve all on their own. Matrimony is a very beautiful joining to establish for the rewards of affection and partnership, possibly meant for ladies who feel more self-assured with a male by their side to have and to hold. With all considered, whether in marriage or not, the ability to a women to live self-sufficiently and undertake various burdens is a very difficult task to master, but once a master, blessings of delight, true happiness and a positive stance in society will result from her mastery.
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