Disrupted Conventions: Gender Roles in Mildred Walker's The Curlew's Cry and Winter Wheat

by Andre-Beatty, Pandora

Abstract (Summary)
In this thesis, I discuss the significance of gender in Mildred Walkers novels The Curlews Cry and Winter Wheat. Walker wrote and situates both narratives in Montana, supporting my argument that literature of the American West remains a productive area for examining gender roles. The Curlews Cry is set at the closing of the American frontier in the early 20th century, while Winter Wheat is set during the settled agricultural era of the 1940s. I argue that instead of re-enforcing gender stereotypes commonly found in novels set in the American West during and after the white settlement of the plains, Walker introduces a modern and arguably feminist critique of the prescriptive roles found throughout the genre of the Western. Walkers narratives portray her characters, both female and male, as unsatisfied with their too-narrowly defined gender roles. My reading of her texts suggests that neither the cowboy masculine West, nor the settled feminine West are adequate models to encapsulate the experiences and desires of those who chose to live on the last American frontier. In my analysis, I employ a feminist perspective on gender. My theoretical framework synthesizes literary criticism and historical criticism that focuses on the American West. Drawing from my studies of feminist criticism, I first explain my interpretation of what it means to offer a feminist reading of Walkers work. In chapter one, I contextualize the theoretical basis of gender studies by outlining a simple review of the key ideas and scholars in the field. I also situate Mildred Walker as a woman, wife, mother and author in relation to her novels and the time within which she wrote. In my final two chapters, I examine the texts of The Curlews Cry and Winter Wheat, working to show the ways in which the narratives reveal a critique of the gender conventions typically found in the Western literary genre. In conclusion, I suggest Walkers character Ellen serves as a model of hybridity, in that she disrupts the limitations of binary thinking through her acceptance of all her lines of inheritance.
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Nancy Cook

School:The University of Montana

School Location:USA - Montana

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:09/19/2007

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