My Antonia romanticizes the immigration experience in so many ways--the success stories of some of the immigrants, for example--but also presents the rather harsh accounts of the mud caves, the meanness resulting from disappointments, and the real poverty of (some) immigrants lives on the plains. Yet the novel finally comes across to me as romantic more than real because, of course, of Jim's presentation of Antonia, which is condescending but still adoring. I'm doing my best to be a "resisting reader" (Judith Fetterley) of this novel to bring it into the context of our country's present immigration discussion, but I'm struggling how to do this. Any ideas on how to contextualize this into current immigration issues?
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I agree that she doesn't challenge the myth at all. But I do think part of her purpose is trying striking that delicate balance btwn maintaining one's cultural identity and assimiliation into American life.
Also have several suggestions for visual arguments for your class re: immigration. There is a new show premiring this week, I belive, that I've heard wondeful clips and analyses of on NPR. It's called "Aliens in America," about a Middle Eastern family that moves to the States and all the stereotypes and ignorance they encounter. And it's a comedy. The clips I heard were very funny.
Also, you might sample a few minutes from the wonderful documentary, "A Day Without a Mexican" which really challenges what we "think we know."
I have a book on feminist epistemology entitled just that: How Do We Know What We Know. Wonderful suggestion and link. Even the word Bohemia seems to negate what we refer to as the "immigration experience" today, for Bohemia equates with Bohemian, which is everything interesting and iconoclastic--not families struggling to become part of the American Dream myth. I do not think Cather bothers to challenge that myth but tends to keep it fairly alive and well in My Antonia.
There's a pretty good article (link below) about this topic. The article begins with a letter written to a newspaper in defense of Cather's position. The writer, Charles Slama, argues: "The number of people who can really form any judgment as to the comparative merits of Bohemia and Bohemian people might be counted on one's fingers. On the other hand, the number of people who make the most confident assertions about us, and who fancy they are especially qualified to speak, is almost unascertainable"
You might try to ask the students how stereotypes come about, how they "know what they know."
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