Economic Context of "My Antonia"

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Economic historical context of women in “My Antonia”

Women in the late 1800s began a transformation that would remain as a lasting phenomenon. During this time period, the US witnessed the creation of the “new woman.” From Antonia who is a farm laborer to Tiny who owns and manages her own business, the “new woman” is portrayed extensively in Cather’s “My Antonia.” The goal of this paper is to analyze the “new woman” from an economic perspective by creating a historical context. Although the scope of the paper is not to exhaust the discussion on all female characters, it will attempt to create a discussion which will portray the female characters from the novel in the economic context of the late 1800s to early 1900s time period. This is the time period in which the novel is set. The thesis of the paper will revolve around the idea that immigrant women during this time period engaged in labor in order to survive, sustain the family, and ensure that a family enterprise ran smoothly and to pay off debts owed by the family.

The late 1800s saw immigrant women engage as laborers on family owned farms. This was a tough time period for immigrants in general because they struggled to survive in a new country. According to Boydston, “The labor force participation of immigrant women (first from Europe and later from Latin America and Asia) was constrained by employer discrimination; immigration policies that made employment status uncertain; and attitudes within their own cultures that restricted some married immigrant women to home-based outwork, family-operated enterprises, or industries that employed family-based groups. Poverty and discrimination combined to concentrate immigrant women in particularly exploitative jobs in domestic work, migrant agricultural labor, and low-wage manufacturing.” (Boydston, “Women in the labor force”) Although there is no evidence of Antonia or Miss Shimerda being discriminated against, it can be speculated that they are both...
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