Notes on My Antonia Themes

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My Antonia Topic Tracking: Gender and Sexuality

Gender and Sexuality 1: The incident when Jim kills the snake signifies the beginning of sexual and gender tensions of Jim and Antonia's relationship. Jim had been feeling annoyed with Antonia for putting on airs as an older and wiser figure. When he kills the snake, Antonia looks at Jim in a whole new way - as a "big mans". She regards him with a new level of respect.

Gender and Sexuality 2: After Antonia's father's death, Jim notices that Antonia is losing all the genteel ways her father taught her. Antonia somewhat enters the men's sphere by doing heavy farm work. She boasts that she can work just as much as her older brother, Ambrosch. Jim and his grandmother are concerned about Antonia, for she seems not to care much about anything other than farming and ploughing.

Gender and Sexuality 3: Jim is annoyed and dismayed at Antonia's manners. She is losing everything her father taught her, and Jim is ashamed of how disappointed her father would have been if he had lived. That Antonia is becoming as surly and skeptical as Ambrosch gives Jim more reason to dislike the change in Antonia. The more she loses her femininity, the more Jim finds her appalling.

Gender and Sexuality 4: Mrs. Burden saves Antonia from another season of heavy farm work of ploughing and threshing by getting her a job at the Harlings', the Burdens' neighbors. Jim's grandmother had been concerned about Antonia's manners just as much as Jim had been. She asks the Harlings to try Antonia as their hired help, for she does not want Antonia to be exposed any longer to the brutal, difficult life of farming, which is normally done by men.

Gender and Sexuality 5: Lena Lingard is the epitome of sexuality and sensuality in the novel. She is described as having "sleepy eyes" that seem to hypnotize men. Lena does not care about consequences when it comes to her view toward relationships. She is also very carefree and open about her sensuality. Men cannot help being entranced by her beauty.

Gender and Sexuality 6: Jim scorns the Black Hawk view toward society. The young men in town are all attracted to the hired girls, but they will not date them. Respect is not given to town men who date hired girls instead of the girls who are daughters of leading Black Hawk citizens. However, the dancing tent brings everyone together, both sexes and both social classes.

Gender and Sexuality 7: Mr. Harling fires Antonia for having a reputation of being free and easy with the young men of town. Jim has noticed that many men find Antonia attractive and pretty. Her stay in town has made her aware of social propriety. Antonia no longer acts like a man, to Jim's relief, but she is growing up and entering the world of sexuality, to his chagrin.

Gender and Sexuality 8: The dances make Antonia very aware of social activities and image. She cares a great deal about her appearance; this is the girl who threshed her family's crops with a heavy plough and wore her father's boots and jacket. Jim, too, becomes involved with Black Hawk social activities as well: he attends every dance and thinks Antonia the most beautiful out of all the hired girls. He is growing up as well.

Gender and Sexuality 9: Jim has a very erotic dream of Lena Lingard running up to him across a field and carying a corn-knife. He imagines Lena kissing him passionately many times. No matter how much he wants to have this dream of Antonia, he never does. In a way, he protects his vision of Antonia's innocence by not dreaming of her in the sexual way he does with Lena.

Gender and Sexuality 10: Wick Cutter's scheme to rape Antonia backfires, with Jim in Antonia's bed instead. Jim is humiliated and angered at Antonia for allowing Wick's brutal attack to happen to him. Cutter's scheme to rape Antonia is the climactic moment of the theme of sexuality in this novel, for it shows that Antonia and Jim are indeed adults now, living in a world with adult situations.

Gender and Sexuality 11: Jim forms a relationship with Lena in Lincoln. Their relationship becomes serious when Cleric feels he has to intervene by asking Jim to follow him East. As Lena is very sensual and passionate in her feelings, Jim cannot help but be swept away by Lena's words and kisses. Jim and Lena both admit that they have had feelings for the other since childhood.

Gender and Sexuality 12: Antonia's disgrace leads her back to her family's farm, where Frances Harling fears that she will fall under Mrs. Shimerda's and Ambrosch's hard, harsh ways again. As long as Antonia lives with her mother and brother, she will again lose the nice ways she learned, Jim implies. The heavy farm work they will make her do will undoubtedly bring out the harshness in her.

Gender and Sexuality 13: Mrs. Steavens tells Jim the story of Antonia's desertion. Antonia's baby, not surprisingly, returns Antonia to her warm, motherly and caring side. Antonia always had the mother instinct in her--the birth of her baby solidifies Antonia's femininity.

Gender and Sexuality 14: Cuzak and Antonia have a good, friendly, affectionate relationship, but it is not a passionate and intense relationship that brings about destruction and turmoil in those around them. Their relationship is clearly not sexual or sensual. Jim admits that Cuzak is merely an instrument in Antonia's destiny, but he is a good man who truly appreciates and loves Antonia for her generous and understanding heart.

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