In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

TYPE A Indian EYES HAIR ^ ^» D a r k « D ir k W K L > T V Inf e ) C«r “” B Lr ' OEuropeQri O B l u e OR^-bloricle _ . orDanish. °IO(JS 6DTITY. THE EUGENICS TREE. From The Journal of Heredity 13.2 (February 1922): 95. Courtesy of the American Philosophical Society. 4 0 4 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n l it e r a t u r e w i n t e r 2 0 0 7 ing so closely on Jim’s description of the owls in the prairie-dog town, not only makes the Shimerdas, like the snakes’ prey, “quite defense­ less,” it also makes them “rather degraded” (29). According to Anne Farrar Hyde, prairie-dog towns were an integral part of the “well-crafted panorama” created by western guidebooks, which encouraged train travelers to look for them as an exciting feature of an otherwise monoto­ nous prairie (130). The novel uses this popular image to manifest the ambiguity surrounding new immigrants’ capacity to enact the American value of “self-government.” Yet My Antonia also deploys class as a way for Anglo-Americans to read and assimilate new immigrants. Despite their ignorance about the Bohemians’ customs, food preparation, and religion, the Burdens immediately understand that Mr. Shimerda, with his “dignified man­ ner,” is middle-class and Mrs. Shimerda is not (just as Marie Shabata is and Frank is not) (23). Although most Slav immigrants were said to come from a degraded, neofeudal peasantry, even racial theorists like Stoddard, as we’ve seen, acknowledged that some possessed gentility, although he argued that Czechs who did had an infusion of Nordic blood (174). W hen Jim and Mrs. Burden pay their winter visit and find the Shimerdas in need, Mrs. Shimerda laughs at the Americans’ sur­ prise “scornfully” and shakes an empty coffee pot at them with “a look positively vindictive” (71). Mr. Shimerda, on the other hand, sits Mrs. Burden down and calmly explains that he is from a respected Bohemian family, that their present need is circumstantial (73). Mr. Shimerda, in other words, satisfies the Burdens’ social sensibilities in several ways: he is genteel, he is grateful for their charity, and he recognizes their respect­ ability. Like Frank Shabata, Mrs. Shimerda embodies many of the worst qualities associated with new immigrants: she is tactless, ungrateful, and contemptuous of the Burdens’ social advantages.5 Just as Jim’s responses to Antonia alternate between respect of and disdain for her foreignness, Antonia herself alternates between exhibit­ ing her father’s Old-World gentility and her mother’s new immigrant crassness. A t times Antonia is gracious, sensitive, and attuned to high “culture,” like her father; at other times, she is boastful and contemptu­ ous, like her mother. After Mr. Shimerda’s suicide, her mother’s and Ambrosch’s new immigrant qualities threaten to subsume the finer characteristics of Cather’s title character. Antonia becomes less gen­ teel both by becoming more “masculine,” doing farm work that “a girl ought not to do,” and by becoming darker-skinned, her body morphing into one resembling “peasant women in all old countries” (121, 117). “The Shimerdas,” then, reverses Cather’s more common attribution of J e a n C . G r i f f i t h 4 0 5 traditional femininity as a Bohemian racial trait. Instead, it draws upon conceptions that “‘peasant’ is in fact the term which best describes the typical Alpine” and that, more generally, “lower” races and classes “suf­ fered” from a lack of gender differentiation, from their men and their women being too similar (Stoddard 15).6Just as Antonia is threatened with being her brother’s “drudge” twice in the novel— after her father’s death and after she returns home pregnant and unmanied in “A Pioneer Woman’s Story”— Slav women of the peasant classes were believed to be the drudges of their tyrannical husbands: “Engaging in ... masculine work,” according to Ross, “not only prevents immigrant women from rising to the American woman’ssense of self-respect, but it hinders their men from developing the American man’s spirit of chivalry” (Old...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 393-417
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.