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Caroline Kirkland's a New Home -- Who'll Follow?
Caroline Kirkland's autobiographical narrative A New Home -- Who'll Follow? serves as a metaphor for the author's sense of settlement on the frontier. As Mary and Mr. Clavers build their "home on the outskirts of civilization," Mary becomes more accustomed to her role as a woman and her role within her community. However, she does so with a high degree of sarcasm, evident in her writing. She describes the people she encounters on the frontier with irony, especially Eloise Fidler and Mr. Jenkins. The former is woefully out of place in Montacute. Eloise Fidler embodies the extreme of femininity, elegance, and high society. She wears inappropriate footwear that forces her to remain indoors all the time. Eloise continually writes poetry and keeps detailed records in her journal. She seems highly educated and well-read and yet the narrator, Mary, makes fun of her being a "great French scholar" when she mauls that language. Eloise, in spite of her appearance and pretentiousness, is obsessed with changing her name. The entire Chapter XXVII becomes for the author an explication of gender relations on the frontier. Likewise, Mr. Jenkins represents political corruption. Even in this tiny small town, Mr. Jenkins brings big city political corruption. Mary describes the community's stronghold as being a "self-sacrificing patriot," another blatantly sarcastic comment. Caroline Kirkland's sardonic tone makes her narrative flow and also reveals much about the author's perception of life in Montacute. Mary adapts well to her adopted surroundings. The irony with which Mary treats the people she observes becomes both social commentary and a means of adaptation.
Mary describes the hardships of her journey with a light heart, as she retells the tale of her and her husband's travels. Mary immediately notes that most Americans dream of living in cities, not in the wilderness. Those like her husband, who are drawn to the frontier because of its limitless potential, end up recreating similar social and political structures that they left behind in the big cities of the East. At first, the journey seemed romantic, at least to Mr. Clavers, who bought 200 acres of "wild land" and "drew with a piece of chalk on the barroom table at Danforth's the plan of a village." Mr. Claver's ambition seems humorous to Mary, who consistently uses irony throughout her narrative. Mary also notes her boredom upon initially arriving on the frontier: she yawns and finds the whole ordeal amusing. Although she admits that many people take for granted that the "well being of cities" depends on the more "homely" operations people like her husband seek to undertake. While she understands his motives for forging a new life in a new community, Mary wonders how "new" the frontier life on "remote and lonely regions" really is.
One of the most remarkable aspects of A New Home -- Who'll Follow? is Mary's constant interpretation of other people's lives. She focuses far more on other people like Mr. Jenkins and Eloise Fidler than on herself. Her own views are expressed more through the tone and diction of her writing than on its content. One of her first experiences when they arrive on the frontier describe the friendly nature of the stranger that helps them recover from the mud-hole. Mary next turns her attention on the alcoholic householder who turned to drinking as soon as he made the move from urban to rural life. By calling Montacute a "wretched den in the wilderness," Mary indicates that she initially felt ambivalent about her husband's decision to move there. Because she has little control over her life, however, Mary writes more about the lives of her fellow settlers than of herself. It is as if the narrator has resigned herself to her new life; she feels settled in the same way her husband wants to settle the land.
Much of Mary's narrative describes the role of women within the frontier community. First she notices that a "large proportion of the married women in Michigan use tobacco in some form." Mary finds this shocking behavior, uncommon for women in her time. However, as Mary becomes more settled in her home she becomes increasingly more confident. In fact, she takes on the role of teacher rather than of newcomer when she first meets Mrs. Rivers. "I shall be able to tell you a great deal in favor of this wild life," she tells Mrs. Rivers, who appears overwhelmed by her new surroundings. Mary has become used to it, tolerant of its inconveniences, and is in general well-settled. Mary admits that she feels comfortable in her new role as "hostess." Observing her new friends becomes a source of entertainment and amusement for Mary.
Eloise Fidler is an especially comical character to Mary. She dresses in city clothes that are totally inappropriate for her surroundings in the wilderness. Eloise perceives Montacute as a sort of "peaceful retreat," a sentiment Mary finds particularly amusing given the hard work it took for her to arrive and adapt to life on the frontier. Eloise is an impractically ultra-feminine woman in a predominantly masculine environment. The town was founded and built by men; women have ancillary roles and are themselves a source of amusement. The Montacute Lyceum opens its doors to the "fair sex" mainly for entertainment. The debate over which gender possesses superior mental capabilities ends in an ironic impasse. Although Mary sees the outcome as favorable to women, the actual conclusion drawn from the lyceum is that women are mentally inferior to men. Mary doesn't seem to mind this outcome, but merely comments on it objectively. Mary's objectivity is a manifestation of her feeling settled in her new community.
As she gets more involved in the lives of those around her, Mary gains a sense of control over her life. Her husband holds all the political power in her household, and writing and commenting on her friends becomes Mary's only source of power. Her friendships with Mrs. Rivers and Eloise also indicate that Mary became more involved with life as she spent more time on the frontier. She became more settled through assuming a role as a silent social commentator for Montacute.
Mary's treatment of Eloise Fidler and of Mr. Jenkins exposes Mary's wit and irony. Eloise is an object of much curiosity for the entire town, but most people simply dismiss her as being a bit nutty. Mary, on the other hand, notes the irony in Eloise's self-expression. On the one hand, Eloise is highly literate and independent; she is a modern woman full of potential for expanding the role of her gender. She is unmarried and lives on the frontier in an unconventional and almost rebellious manner. Eloise doesn't fit in with the rest of the group. However, her obsession with her name is woefully trite, making her lofty words seem completely inconsequential. Moreover, she misses the point about Edward Dacre's name. Mary tells Eloise that upon moving, many people change the spellings of their names, thereby "murdering" them. However, Daker and Dacre sound exactly the same; only the spelling differs. Moreover, Eloise ends up falling in love and eloping with him anyway. Mary rightfully finds the entire episode amusing and worth including in her narrative. Again, Mary's observations are more important than her own experiences; she rarely mentions her husband at all in the narrative.
Mary's treatment of Mr. Jenkins' political career is similarly humorous and sardonic. Mr. Jenkins becomes drawn to public life and thrives on the recognition and power. He preaches about patriotism, while at the same time subverting the democratic process by switching parties merely to stay in power. He clothes his self-serving intent by professing to be wholly unselfish. Mary, rather than find his behavior deplorable, simply finds the humor in it. Furthermore, when Mary…[continue]
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Pioneers/New Home Compare-Contrast Caroline's Kirkland's A New Home -- Who'll Follow? And James Fenimore Cooper's The Pioneers are novels from the nineteenth century that examine the life of the American frontier. Each author seeks to maintain a realistic them with an underlying yearning to educate the reader. Both novels present us with glimpses into how life would have been for the American man and woman on the frontier through specific, conscious