255 Feminism in The Female American

Kelsey Davis

On her journey to America, Unca Eliza told her cousin that “I would never marry any man who could not use a bow and arrow as well as I could,” (60). She later reverberates that statement to the captain of the ship, telling him that “if [his son] could shoot my bow and arrows, which then hung by me in the cabin, as well as I could, I would have him, were he ugly or handsome,” (62).

At first this sounds fantastic. Here is a female character taking agency for herself. She refuses to marry any man, no matter how advantageous for her and despite any true feelings of love/affection between her and whoever is proposing. She knows that she must get married, because of the time period it would be a scandal if she did not, but she wants to do it on her own terms. Which, again, is great.

The issue I find with her characterization in regards to her marriage is that she is made to be excessively masculine as she takes agency. She is a fighter, she uses weaponry that not many women are taught to use. Why does she have to be physically tough in order for her to have agency? Why can she not be a feminine woman wanting freedom?

The issue I see all the time, especially in this novel, is that when a female character is made to be a feminist, most of her “feminine” attributes are taken away. Why can’t a woman who loves to embroider choose her own husband? Or decide to not marry at all?

I’m not saying that masculine women are bad, or less of a woman for enjoying the things they do, and that Unca Eliza is a bad person for enjoying archery. What I am saying is that feminists can be more than what they are portrayed as being in literature.


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The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project Copyright © 2016 by Kelsey Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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