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Themes Of Rebirth And Gender Roles In My Antonia

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‘My Antonia’ by Willa Cather is a famous novel that takes place in the late nineteenth century to early twentieth century. It has been read by numerous classes through out the twentieth century and continues to be a famous piece of literature to this day. This story has been interrupted in multiple ways and continues to fascinate critics to this day. ‘My Antonia’ is a timeless story due to its ability defy traditional gender roles of the time and its ability to show rebirth throughout the entire story.

To summarize My Antonia’ it is necessary to know that this story is what Jim Burden remembers of Antonia after multiple years of not being active in her life.The first time Jim met Antonia was when he went with his grandma to meet the Shimerdas. Antonia was the eldest daughter to Mr. and Mrs. Shimerda. Once Jim had met Antonia, he started teaching her English and then eventually taught her little sister Yulka English as well. Antonia became Jim’s best friend during at this time. One of the hardest moments for both Jim and Antonia was Antonia’s father’s suicide and is something that affected them both throughout their lifetimes. Eventually, Jim and grandparents moved to Blackhawk and Antonia stayed on her family farm. Jim became close to the Harling family this led to the Harling family eventually hiring Antonia out to do housework. Jim and Antonia went to dances together as friends.

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Eventually Antonia leaves the Harling family and works for Wick Cutter. This led to Antonia almost getting raped, but she was protected by Jim. Antonia eventually went back to the farm and Jim went to college at Lincoln University. He studied there for a while eventually Lena showed up and they became close to each other. At this time Antonia was engaged to a man named Larry Donavon. Jim Went on a went to Harvard to work with his mentor Gaston Cleric. When he finished his degree at Harvard he returned to Blackhawk. He learned that Larry Donavon left her with a child. Jim continued on with his life and became a lawyer. When Jim did go to Blackhawk again, he met up with Antonia again. They caught up with each other and discussed the past. He met her kids and her husband Anton Cuzak. Then Jim went back to New York. That’s the end of the story. ‘My Antonia’ has a couple strong females that defy the tradition gender roles of the time of when the story was written. Lena discusses about not wanting to a man in chapter four of the hired girls. “I don’t want to marry Nick, or any other man.” (pg85). This shows that Lena was more focused on being her own person and really creating her own life without the help of a man. This is shows that Willa Cather really was trying to show that women really doesn’t need a man in her life.

Lena by choice didn’t want to be a with a man. Lena wanted to create a life for herself and focus more on her sewing career than anything else. Another area where Willa Cather breaks traditional gender roles within ‘My Antonia’ is within the entire character of Antonia. When first introduced to Antonia she had some feminine qualities but wasn’t completely feminine. She is what would be described today as a tomboy. After the tough winter and the death of Mr. Shimerda, Antonia quickly help establish the farm with her brother Ambrose. She was insistent that she could do just as much work as any man could do. “Jim, you ask Jake how much he ploughed today. I don’t want Jake get more done in one than me.” (pg 66). Antonia was never scared of hard work and consistently worked hard on the farm. This shows that she was wanted to break the traditional gender roles of the time by working on the farm to the point of outworking her brother and not just be another women sitting at home doing cooking and cleaning. She too wanted to help create a good financial situation for her family. She didn’t care if it meant going out and getting dirty. She worked hard on the farm with her brothers so that her family could the life they came to the United states for no matter what it made her look like. This also means she didn’t mind not appearing less feminine and not following traditional gender roles. However, how ‘My Antonia’ defies gender roles for the time period isn’t the only thing that makes ‘My Antonia’ an amazing piece of literature that is timeless.The theme of rebirth is an underlying theme throughout the story that allows this story to remain timeless. It can be seen how a lot of the characters are being reborn when they move from their original location in the world to Blackhawk, Nebraska.

The most unique version of rebirth in ‘My Antonia’ is when Jim killed the rattle snake. “I ran up and drove at his head with my spade”(pg 30). This a version of rebirth because prior to this point Jim was still viewed as a young boy by Antonia. Once Jim kills this snake he is no longer viewed as a young boy. He is reborn as a man. This is a big turning point for him because of the way he killed it and the fact that the snake was huge. He was no longer a little child in the eyes of people around him. He was a man.

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Themes Of Rebirth And Gender Roles In My Antonia. (2021, September 30). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from
“Themes Of Rebirth And Gender Roles In My Antonia.” Edubirdie, 30 Sept. 2021,
Themes Of Rebirth And Gender Roles In My Antonia. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 May 2023].
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