The Limitations of Rigid Gender Norms in Willa Cather’s My Ántonia
This essay examines the limitations of societal gender norms and expectations of the late nineteenth-century and how the fictional character Ántonia Shimerda adheres to and fails to conform to them. In nineteenth-century America men and women were divided into two different spheres. Women were expected to stay within the four walls of the home and take care of cooking, housekeeping and raising the family’s children. The home was believed to be the only place where a woman could be truly happy. However, in the novel Ántonia proves that women can be happy performing physically demanding tasks outside of the expected sphere for women. To explore Ántonia’s gender fluidity this essay focuses on gender expectations and norms in the historical setting of the novel and analyzes the reasons for her to abandon her gender and the consequences this has in her life. The representation of a character that both adheres to and fails to conform to the nineteenth-century gender perceptions indicates the performative nature of gender. Cather creates a fluid gender in Ántonia, who proves to be both an independent and strong character that clearly illustrates the limitations of rigid gender norms.
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