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Themes

My Ántonia subverts traditional gender roles, both for women and for men. Set around the turn of the century in the American West, the novel surprisingly features women as its strongest characters and men as its weakest. In My Ántonia we see an apparent reversal of stereotypical gender roles. Women take control of families, earn money, call the shots, and even do field work with the men. The title character, Ántonia, is characterized by strength of both body and of spirit, while the male narrator Jim is both indecisive and weak. This female strength is rewarded in the novel – the strongest of the young women end up as successful, happy adults. Cather does present different life trajectories for these women: some end up in business while others end up as homemakers. The novel seems to take an equally positive view toward both, though this is subject to debate.

Questions About Gender

  1. In what ways does Ántonia rebel against gender stereotypes in her day and age? Are there are of the stereotypes she does fit?
  2. Why doesn't Lena want to get married? Does this seem reasonable? Why is it that Ántonia does want to get married?
  3. Which life is presented as the "right" choice for a woman – Lena's or Ántonia's?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In My Ántonia, the women are the characters of action, while the men are characterized by passivity.

My Ántonia rejects traditional standards of femininity and argues for alternatives.

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