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Willa Cather, Sexuality and My Antonia

            "The lesbian subject, variously defined, appears in a number of coded, indirect, and subversive as well as literal ways. Instead of a recognizable genre, lesbian literary narrative, is in reality, a disputed form, dependent on various interpretive strategies." Marilyn Farwell offers a detailed response to the complicated genre of lesbian literature. Farwell recognizes the need to "read against the grain" in order to establish the encoded meanings and forms in lesbian writing that are not clearly placed across a fictional tale. It is with this type of reading perhaps that a lesbian narrative space is created by Cather in "My Antonia." Cather illustrates a story of Jim Burden and his relationship with Antonia within a backdrop of events that can be appropriated as forming a lesbian narrative space. Cather's characterisation, with effective use of binary oppositions, a male narrative voice and critique of conventional gender/norms and roles allows this lesbian narrative space to be drawn out from the main text. .
             Jim's killing of the snake can perhaps be viewed as a way to confuse boundaries. The snake can represent a phallic symbol, which suggests that Jim's decision to kill it emphasises a rejection of masculinity and the heterosexual norm. The sexual imagery attached to the description of the snake also highlights its place as a phallic symbol within the novel, "His abdominal muscularity, his loathsome, fluid motion, somehow made me sick." Jim's revolution towards the snake further accentuates how the idea of the male is treated within the novel, opening up a space for a lesbian narrative to be formed. "Jim strikes violently and with revulsion, recognizing even then an irrational hatred stronger than the impulse for protection." Here, Blanch H. Gelfat recognizes Jim's lack of protective instincts and points out the sexual connotations attached to Jim's reaction to the snake.

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