The social, political, and economic changes that greatly influenced and shaped the beginning of 20th century also marked a transnational period over humanity. Most of the people that were greatly influenced by the transnational period were women who started to question their position and took a journey to define their self-identity in the society. Women wanted to know where they belong. This is the period when women started to claim their rights within the socioeconomic basis to ensure that they also become independent as their male counterparts. Living in a male-dominated society, women started to rebel against the societal stereotypes and wanted to be taken seriously and respectfully. Women in the 20th century wanted to move away from the historical and traditional stereotype that barred and deprived them of setting up an identity or persona. The girls in the two novels My Antonia by Will Cather and Maggie: A girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane is an exemplary scenario of women trying to get away from the male dominated society. This paper is going to compare and contrast the two novels, focusing on the central theme of female representation in the protagonists. This analysis will focus on the difference and similarities of the depiction of female characters in the texts.
Willa Cathers novel My Antonia involves strong female characters like Antonia who despite the socioeconomic challenges in the neighborhood where she grew up, she still manages to come out successful. The novel has female characters whose personalities set to create a unique identity and persona for the woman figure in that society. The author has tried to create a sense of credibility in the novel through the creation of strong female characters that manages to conquer their fear and societal stereotype and becomes successful and prosperous. Although Willa uses a male characters voice in the narration, he still appreciates the roles of women in the society. For example, Jim Burden appreciates the importance of Antonia when he declares his affection towards her; Id have liked to have you for a sweetheart, or wife, or my mother.anything a woman can be a man (Cather, 1918, p. 217). This is the period that men still dominated the society and women were their subordinates. However, through the narration voice, Jim Burden proves people wrong when he stands to support and appreciate the female figure. At this point, it is not easy to say that Antonia was a strong character. However, the society had started changing slowly and men represented by Jim Burden started to appreciate and pave way for feminist revolution.
On the other hand, the novel Maggie: A Girl of the Streets is a story about a downfall of a young girl who does not have many options. Crane has created a female character whose options lie within two wrong or bad dimensions. It is either she chooses to live in a poor life surrounded by her drunkard tyrannical mother and tempered brother or become prosperous through prostitution. Maggie has no other option that can help realize her dreams. Maggie grew up in a slum; influenced by the complex belief that young girls in slums tend or opt to make bad choices than young girls anywhere else. However, it is not entirely right to blame the society or environment for her predicaments and everything bad that befell her after choosing to become a prostitute.
The female characters fates in the two novels have been shaped differently despite growing up in a poor neighborhood. Antonia is depicted as a strong female character while her counterpart Maggie is weak. Some of the predicaments that befall Maggie are self-inflicted and cannot entirely be blamed on the environment. Maggies demise caused mainly by her romantic and unrealistic ideals as depicted in the novel. The negative perception that is deduced from Maggies situation is somehow contributed to her immature romantic feelings towards Pete. She identifies Pete as an ideal man of valor (Crane, 1893, p. 17-19). The novel depicts Maggie as gullible and easily lure young girl when she gets attracted to Petes dress code; she is attracted to Pete who is immaculately dressed in a white jacket and apron (Crane, 1893, p. 19). Her naivety contributes significantly to her downfall and the wrong choices that she made in life that contributes to her misery and later her death. Unlike Antonia who is strong and tries to go beyond the societal traditional stereotypes that limit women roles, she is able to break the male-dominated parameters and defines her fate. Unlike Maggie who struggles and cannot even feed herself, Antonia is successful and everyone in the family looks up to her strength. Jim Burden describes her as a rich mine of life like the founder of early races (Cather, 1918, p. 235). Jim looks at Antonia as the source of life and livelihood of the family. Maggies weaknesses have significantly contributed to her destruction in the end. Therefore, it is important to note the weakness of Maggie as it translates to her misery and death, and also note the strengths of Antonia that translates to her success and prosperity in the end.
The two protagonists in the novels have grown in different worlds although almost similar to some extent. Both worlds are dominated by male features. For example, Maggies world is dominated by her brother Jimmie who dictates everything in the family. Although their father died and as the elder, he is supposed to provide and look after the family, the depiction that has been accorded to Jimmie is not as an elderly but as a tyrannical and oppressive figure that undermines the women. He and his drunkard mother throw Maggie out of the street because she has messed up. They claim that Maggie has brought disgrace to their family; however, they forget the fact that the mother is also a drunkard and abusive that also brings shame to the family. The same is also deduced from the novel My Antonia where the male seems to rule everything. Although, Antonia manages to come out of the stereotype created by the society, but she had to go through some stiff challenges first; for example, she has to conform to the male gender roles that are used by the society where she grew in to set up acceptable boundaries and ideals upon sexuality. Antonias prosperity represented by the many children she bore; Jim Burden describes them by saying that she pulled them out of corners and came bringing them like a mother cat (Cather, 1918, p. 223). Antonia also grew in a world where poverty was not an option to ignore just like Maggies world. However, the way they made decisions greatly influenced how they turned out in the end. Maggie made the wrong choices that were also influenced by the fact that she lived in a slum, and she ended up as a prostitute and dead later. Antonia, on the other hand, thrived through the challenges and emerged prosperous and successful with many children and family of her own.
Women are facing challenges and obstacles that may bar them from realizing their prosperity and dreams. However, as depicted in the novel My Antonia, women are able to overcome the challenges irrespective of their socioeconomic status. Poverty and societal traditional stereotypes are some of the things that contribute greatly to the downfall of women in the society. Women have always been seen as dependent or subjects to the male partners. Therefore, a woman was not expected to thrive as Antonia has thrived in the novel, especially following the fact that she grew in a family with no stable socioeconomic background. Therefore, the two novels have been influenced by the worlds where the protagonists grew in. The two novels despite being set from almost the same economic settings, they bear different meanings depicted through the female protagonists. In the novel My Antonia, the character Antonia has been depicted as prosperous despite growing up in poverty. The author uses her primarily to show or demonstrate the inculcated moral values in the society. On the other hand, Maggie in the novel Maggie: A Girl of the Street depicts the destructiveness and falsity of unwanted moral codes in the society. Through her death, Maggie is depicted as a character that has seen the world through a distorted mirror where the end matters than the means towards realizing the end. Some of the challenges that the two protagonist characters in the novels face are the same and similar; for example, the societal stereotype, poverty, and dependent on the partners. However, it is important to note that the choices that women make will either destroy them as it destroyed Maggie or make them successful and prosperous as it made Antonia prosperous. Women that will have the courage to face and go through the traditional societal stereotype created to bar them from realizing their personality and identity may have it through successfully like Antonia. On the other hand, women that may not have the courage to approach the challenges head-on may be destroyed along the way like Maggie was destroyed by her own choices. Therefore, the worlds may be different geographically, but they share a number of issues ranging from social to economic.
The two stories are set in a male dominated society where the male controlled everything and women were regarded as subordinates to their gender counterparts. However, the way the masculine features or values have been depicted in the two novels is quite different and opposite. In the novel Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, the masculine values have been depicted as oppressive and tyrannical. Maggie is thrown by her own brother Jimmie who thinks that she is not supposed to have messed with Pete. Crane depicts the dehumanizing moral ambivalence that has been prevalently demonstrated throughout the novel. Maggie grew up in a male-dominated society where the things that women did were the ones criticized as wrong while the male was considered to be right every time. The brutality of her brother Jimmie to throw her out of the house on her mothers watch is some of the things that destroyed her life. The male values represented in the novel are associated with the arrogance and paternalism that has been masked by the sentimentalism that the society uses to control the women. The decision to leave the house is being decided by Jimmie and the women are not allowed to disagree or oppose. The women are not allowed to make comments even on the things that immediately affect them. Jimmie disrespects his sister, Maggie, Ah what deh hell!.....shut up er Ismack yer mout (Crane, 1893, p. 5), when she tries to complain about her dehumanization.
The male values in the novel My Antonia has been presented in a different and opposite way that the other novel presents it. Through the male narrators voice, Jim Burden, the male characters are in a state of confusion looking for their own identities just like the women. Unlike the other novel by Crane where the male seems to have already established their role and identities, the novel My Antonia male characters are still struggling to create their identity in a new and fast changing society. Represented by Jim Burden, Cather depicts male characters that fear of losing their manhood because the female has emerged so vibrant and determined to overcome the gender stereotypes created by the society to limit them from realizing their identities and personalities. The novel depicts through the character Jim, the state of confusion with gender roles. Through his interaction with the female characters, Jim is struggling to keep his manhood by separating from the female characters that he fears. With the entrance of vibrant women like Antonia who can make her life without depending on male personalities created a confusion for men as they could no longer define themselves with the sa...
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