The Young Girls in My Antonia

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During the twentieth century, the century where millions of immigrants arrived in the United States, immigrating and new beginnings were not thought of as women’s stories. If a woman grew the courage to become an immigrant pioneer in American, she would often have difficulty with the opportunities and face many challenges a man would not encounter. The early American beliefs imagined women as only being there to support the men and not being able to build a home for themselves nor their families alone.

So, during this time, women were confined to their homes in the traditional roles of wife or mother this included: staying home and caring for the children, cooking, and cleaning because the man ensure the financial safety; obeying the husband because he was in control and have a lady-like appearance because a women was meant to wear dresses and always be clean. But Willa Cather’s My Antonia, written in 1918, disproves these views about women by having independent and feminist ideas especially shown through Antonia Shimerda and Lena Lingard.

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“Feminism is the set of beliefs and ideas that belong to the broad social…movement to achieve greater equality for women” (Fiss 413).

Gender equality

Again, an idea not taking well during this time. But My Antonia, evoking the prairie life of Cather’s childhood, has each female character demonstrating the new role challenging the traditional. Cather then portrays the refute by giving each give different physical, intellectual, and work and home lives than what was expected.Readers easily described Antonia Shimerda as the character most open to new behavioral and opinions and willing to abandon traditional values.

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Although she arrived on the Nebraska frontier as part of a Bohemian family with much, Antonia is a very strong will character. During her first encounter with Jim Burden, Antonia shows her powerful will. “She pointed up at the sky, then to my eyes, then back to the sky, with movements so quick and impulsive…she was quick, and very eager” (Cather 15-16).

Jim and his grandparents had gone to greet the Bohemian family when Ántonia lashed out at Jim for not having an idea of what word she wanted him to teach her. Only a few days had passed since the Bohemian’s arrival when Ántonia was eager to learn English. Goals and achieving them was not common for women either during this time, but this did not destroy her ambition. “Tony learned English so quickly that by the time school began she could speak as well as any of [other characters]” (Cather 76). Ántonia’s will to learn and the amount of demand were her first signals that she was not the typical Western girl.After Ántonia’s father dies refutes the another and possibly the most traditional role: women do not work on the land. She “began at once to tell me how much ploughing she had that day… Ántonia stood up… I can work like a mans now…I help make this land one good farm” (Cather 60-61).

Ántonia’s brother cannot work the land all himself, so she leaves learning to work on the land. A reader could see this as a sacrifice, but then Ántonia exclaims, “I like to work out of doors than in a house…I like to be like a man” (Cather 68). She cultivates her father’s land because she fell in love with it which was usually a relationship occurring between a man and his land. The men were the heads of their households by providing financially for their family, but Cather’s demonstrates the opposite when the Shimerdas rely on Ántonia, a woman, for them financially. The Western societies thought women were more nurturing than men, so they would work full-time within their home rather and what Ántonia did of taking employment working on the land.

Like Ántonia, Cather’s presents Lena Lingard as another character who opposes what the twentieth century demanded of a proper lady. Lena is considered to have an insensitive character. “She had been talked about. She was accused of making Ole Benson lose the little sense he had… The next Sunday… Ole slipped out… and lifted Lena on her horse. That, in itself was shocking; a married man was not expected to do such things… [his wife] darted out from the group of women… and ran down the road after Lena…But Lena Lingard only laughed her lazy, good-natured laugh and rode on.” (Cather 81-82). Her employer was obsessed with her with the town finding out she was the in mouths of the entire town. Despite this Lena does not show or feel a concern for their feelings or thoughts about her. She would just smile and say she could not help it if Ole looked; she could not order him to leave her. Though Lena could have quit, she did not because she had a good job and did not pay attention to the townspeople where then she becomes a very successful businesswoman.

Partying—something never seen with the town girls—was common among the country girls especially Ántonia and Lena. After a week of work, the country girls would go dancing to the pavilions. They knew that if they went to they would attract the young men, but not the way society considered appropriate. The townspeople thought less of them and disliked them more, but it gave them a feeling of being free. While the town girls were in their homes because their husbands did not permit them to leave, the country girls were out dancing. The contrast that the town girls were never out dancing show how the country girls were threatening the traditional roles and were free to do want they desired.

Both Ántonia and Lena “who helped to break up the wild sod, learned so much from life” (Cather 96) because Cather considered them more than the traditional woman in the Western society. She wrote their characters as women who were self-advocates and thought themselves equal to the men. In My Antonia, the men were not seen as the only individuals who were inferior, but instead, this novel brought the idea of how women could be inferior too. The two women demonstrated they could be what they wanted to be: strong-willed, hard workers, independent, and free-spirited if they just challenged the traditional gender roles.

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The Young Girls in My Antonia. (2022, Jan 13). Retrieved from

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