Women and Western American Literature

By Helen Winter Stauffer; Susan J. Rosowski | Go to book overview

Marie Louise Ritter:
The Pioneer Woman in Fact and Fiction

Darlene Ritter

The addition to the population of the United States between 1815 and 1914 of thirty-five million Europeans is as significant a chapter in American history as the preceding two centuries of colonization. 1 The arrival of these millions altered America, but it must be remembered that immigration also altered the immigrants. Immigration resulted in one's becoming a foreigner, ceasing to belong. The disruption of a familiar life and surroundings often caused broken homes, and the effect of the movement was harder upon the people than upon the society they entered. 2

The role women played in the settlement of the West has been of special interest to many authors. Cather presented her great heroines, Ántonia and Alexandra, who seemed to belong to and with the land, but still paid a price for their roles in developing the land. The prototypes of these characters came from Cather Red Cloud years. O. E. Rblvaag wrote of Beret and her problems in adjusting to the many moves and final settlement in the open plains of South Dakota. He drew upon information from his wife's family and upon memories of his own mother to create the fictional character Beret. Sophus Winther, similarly, in Take All to Nebraska used his mother as the prototype for the character Meta Grimsen. Although Mari Sandoz used her father as the subject of Old Jules, she also wrote of the problems of his wives and other women as they tried to adjust to life in the Sandhills. In other works she wrote of the problems of fictional women. Suicides and insanity provided escape for many who could not deal with the adjustments. These heightened,intensiwere drawn.

Later generations often forget that immigration uprooted

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