The Non-Immigrant Narrative

Through my first reading of My Ántonia most of my initial reactions centered around the notion of a man analyzing a female immigrant’s experiences with American society. I’m not sure how this work will compare with others that we read, but I found it most interesting that there is actually contention for the role of protagonist. Jim certainly transforms throughout the novel, but alongside an entire plot surrounding a dynamic Ántonia. We discussed filtering in class and I always wonder how others define immigration as they see it at a personal level. Every day in the media we are exposed to objective observations on a particularly personal subject. But in My Ántonia’s we see personal growth through simultaneous protagonist development over a lifetime of friendship. The experiences I found most fascinating were those regarding gender. When our common perceptions of immigration are objectified through any lens, I think we often overlook gender as an important identity in immigrant narratives. Even in insignificant moments, like the argument between Jim and Ántonia where she repeats her mother’s justification for emigration, “American big country; much money, much land for my boys, much husband for my girls.” (98, Cather) gender norms influenced their movement. Again, Cather stresses Ántonia’s strong or brutish demeanor with constant reference to her physical appearance and work habits, and then describes her migration to the city as a form of gender assimilation. Meanwhile, Jim develops as a young man in school learning to, “…fight, play ‘keeps’, tease the little girls, and use forbidden words as well as any boy in [his] class.” (128) We see a family’s immigration experience contextualized by American working class during a time when societies of most cultures had strict gender roles for working people. The division is apparent on a broad scale in the first half of the book, but it’s not until Ántonia comes to the city when the roles become anecdotal. Her experiences with the pavilion and Cutter show the difference between working as a female and male immigrant.

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