The Virginian

by Owen Wister

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What qualities of an ideal woman are exemplified by Molly in The Virginian?

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In chapter 8 of The Virginian, Owen Wister introduces Molly Stark Wood as a very unusual young woman:

Now, it is not usual for young ladies of twenty to contemplate a journey of nearly two thousand miles to a country where Indians and wild animals live unchained, unless they are to make such journey in company with a protector, or are going to a protector's arms at the other end. Nor is school teaching on Bear Creek a usual ambition for such young ladies.

The first characteristics the reader sees in Molly are her exceptional fearlessness and spirit of adventure. She also has a strong sense of duty. She wants to come and teach at the school in Bear Creek not only to see the West, but also to earn some money "so that mother might keep on living in the old house."

Molly has an impeccable background, claiming descent from a war hero who "battled so bravely as to send his name thrilling down through the blood of generations of schoolboys." However, she refuses to join any of the patriotic societies which solicit her membership, for she wears her illustrious ancestry lightly and detests snobbery. Nor will she marry for the sake of financial security or social advantage. Molly is perfectly happy "to embroider the handkerchiefs, make the preserves, teach the pupils" and do any other tasks that fall to her lot, never regarding any of them as beneath her.

Although she rejects her suitor, a wealthy young man named Sam Bannett, because she does not love him, Molly is tender-hearted enough to feel sorry for Sam. Shut away in her room, she sheds bitter tears over the necessity of hurting him, though she never shows her emotions in public. Wister's ideal woman, therefore, is kindhearted but strong-willed, hardworking, adventurous, brave, and entirely free from snobbery.

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