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Gendering America and National Identity in Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!, My Ántonia, and A Lost Lady Open Access

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Much critical scholarship has considered the ways in which gender and gender expression contribute to Willa Cather’s novels. Much work has also considered Cather’s regionalism and its relationship to national literature and the values of the American middle west. My work in this paper brings together these two notions to suggest that national identity is gendered in Cather’s work, particularly in O Pioneers! (1913), My Ántonia (1918), and A Lost Lady (1923). I consider historical, contemporary works such as Frederick Jackson Turner’s writings on the American frontier, as well as early reviews of Cather’s novels in order to provide context around American literature and history of the period. I consider Cather scholars such as Susan J. Rosowski, Mary Paniccia Carden, Sally Peltier Harvey, and Hermione Lee, as well as studies of American literature and nation-building such as work done by Walter Benn Michaels, Mark Morrison, and Benedict Anderson. I posit that through characters like Alexandra Bergson, Ántonia Shimerda, and Marian Forrester, Cather imagines a new national identity for America, one that is rooted in unorthodox gender performance and locates the woman as a type of ideal American. Cather does this by mythologizing her women, allowing them to recur in the American present and escaping the bonds of a constricting nostalgia that defines the men in her work.

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