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This reveals the more liberated ideals of the west and of the pioneer culture. First, Alexandra envisions herself "being lifted and carried lightly by some one very strong. He was with her a long while this time, and carried her very far, and in his arms she felt free from pain." The masculine figure takes the place of the gossamer female angel. She is about to be subsumed by the ethereal lover. "When he laid her down on her bed again, she opened her eyes, and, for the first time in her life, she saw him, saw him clearly, though the room was dark, and his face was covered." Here, gender roles are again reversed as they are in the previous passage when the man is the angel. The man is now being veiled, his "face was covered." Veil is usually used to conceal the woman's but not the man's identity; this also ties in with Brown's stereotype of the pioneer woman in her bonnet, a headdress like a veil used to cover and protect the face. The man wears an angelic veil in Alexandra's vision: "His white cloak was thrown over his face, and his head was bent a little forward." From here, Alexandra is able to explore her sexuality. The imagery becomes overtly phallic. "His right arm, bared from the elbow, was dark and gleaming, like bronze, and she knew at once that it was the arm of the mightiest of all lovers." The arm is the phallic symbol, "bared…dark and gleaming…the arm of the mightiest of lovers" is language that thinly cloaks the male sexual organ. Similarly, Alexandra allows the lover to bring her to orgasm: "She knew at last for whom it was she had waited, and where he would carry her." When she awakens, Alexandra has a " hard cold and a stiff shoulder" Cather uses diction like "hard" and "stiff" deliberately to underscore the phallic imagery as it applies to Alexandra's sexuality.
The female movement in the west can be viewed as an emergency, in the sense that there were more men than women during initial waves of migration. With men outnumbering women, and the desire for women burgeoning among heterosexual men who did not find satisfaction in prostitution alone, it was necessary to call for the population of western lands with liberated women. Alexandra exemplifies a new liberated woman of the west. However, she is not a liberated woman because of her sexuality. She is liberated because she is economically independent. She does not need to be married to have a viable form of food, shelter, and clothing. Alexandra did inherit her property from a male, her father, but that was in spite of the fact that she had brothers. Her father had what would have been considered viable male heirs, but he also knew that his male heirs could not manage the property as well as his daughter. The father comes across as a potent paternal figure who recognizes the importance of feminist theory long before it was fashionable to do so.
Willa Cather's O Pioneer! is not typically read as a feminist novel, but it can be. Using psychoanalysis, it is easy to see how Alexandra's id, ego, and superego are balanced. Moreover, the death wish of Alexandra fades away. She becomes sublimated by the love of Carl, and has dreams of phallic symbols that are as empowering as her custody of the land that she owns. From a feminist perspective, Alexandra subverts patriarchy by putting off marriage, and by not viewing herself as destined for domestic servitude. Quite the contrary, she does not muse on progeny. Alexandra is a true feminist hero of the pioneer spirit. Her private and public lives converge to show how women could gain prominence in both, presaging the era of suffrage.
Brown, Dee Alexander. The Gentle Tamers: Women of the Old Wild West. University of Nebraska Press, 1958.
Cather, Willa. O Pioneers! Searchable online version: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/24/24-h/24-h.htm
The Chronicle, San Francisco. "The Foremothers Tell of Olden Times." 9 Sept, 1900. Retrieved online: http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist5/foremoms.html
Jameson, Elizabeth. "Women as Workers, Women as Civilizers: True Womanhood in the American West." Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. Vol. 7, No. 3, Women on the Western Frontier (1984), pp. 1-8
Jensen, Joan M. And Miller, Darlis a. "The Gentle Tamers Revisited: New Approaches to the History of Women in the American West." Pacific Historical Review. Vol. 49, No. 2 (May, 1980), pp. 173-213
Peavy, Linda S. And Smith, Ursula. Pioneer Women. University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.
Rollings-Magnusson, Sandar. "Canada's Most Wanted: Pioneer Women on the Western Prairies." Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue canadienne de sociologie. Vol 37,…[continue]
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