TheRoles of Women in "A New Home, Who`ll Follow?"
CarolineStansbury Kirkland drafted “A New Home, Who’ll Follow?” underpseudonym Mary Clavers. The book describes the experience of amiddle-class relatively educated white woman who moves to theAmerican frontier because of her husband’s ambitions. Kirklandtakes advantage of her presence in Michigan border to record theAmerican social history expressing her commitment to realism(Kirkland 8). She managed to work as a magazine editor at a time whenwomen were rarely involved in the publishing business. Kirklanddevotes most of her text describing real and physical hardship in thewilderness recording the homelessness experienced by women in thefrontier. The book shows that women play an instrumental role in thesettling of the frontier.
Therole of a woman was depicted in true womanhood, which required herselfless devotion to her home, moral instruction, and cultivation offeminine values integrated into the community, especially within themiddle-class American women. Although women writers professed to thecode of true womanhood, they strived to find a way of expressing viewand sentiments, which were considered unfeminine. Even thoughKirkland shows concern for the daily events and the neighborhood, shefrequently contrasts the true womanhood preoccupation in the frontiermen’s perspective.
Kirklanduses the exemplary feminity to ridicule the pretense of masculineactivities in the West. In her assertiveness to reality, she refersto the male-authored accounts as a little material that can be calleda story.
Therewas a misconception relating to the frontier women’s lifestyle.Great physical endurance was required from the women settlers asdepicted in the stories about the women neighbors in Montacute. Thewomen settlers had to be prepared for hard physical labor before theycould enjoy the fruit of their success. For instance, Mrs. Danfordexpresses that they hard to toil till dark in the field burningstumps and collecting brush heaps, which were awful at first, but nowthey have four times the land they had ever owned in New York State(Kirkland 55). As Kirkland talks about Mrs. Danford hard earnedsuccess whose tiny hotel the Clavers stayed after arrival, she pointsout that the land increase does not guarantee the improvement of theliving standards. Kirkland writes, "comforts do not seem toabound proportionally to landed increase, but often, on the contrary,are diminished for the sake of it" (Kirkland 18).
Frontierlife has difficult conditions that require both men and women to beinvolved equally in domestic and outdoor chores. Lack of division oflabor called for both men and women to be ready to perform a widerange of tasks. Women are regarded as grumblers in Michigan, and theyobligate some regret. Majority of them have made unplannedsacrifices, which diminish principally from their ordinary comfortstores. The persuasion of good amassing on a large scale does notdeter the irksome sense of petty deprivation (Kirkland 247). Thestandard of living of women deteriorates due to the excessive strainespecially on those not trained on the skills essential on thefrontier.
Itwas not only for the frontier men to cope with stressful situationsbut women too needed the resource to overcome frontier miseries. Theauthor notes that Mrs. Danford can boast about her not being afraidof the long walks in the woods even after killing two rattlesnakes.There are many situations in the book that portray the fearlessadventures of the frontier’s women despite being presented as naïveladies. For example, the courageous venture of the narrator. In theabsence of her husband, she leaves scratchy Ketchum’s house andmoves in the Clavers log house in the woods. She establishes her newhome without her husband’s assistance facing unanticipatedchallenges. Misguided by the elegant, romantic life, she did notforesee the effort involved. Neither does she expect the small sizeof the new cabin, lack of chimney and inadequate furniture. Thetrials in setting up a cabin house do not overpower Mrs. Clavers shemanages to overcome them.
Thehouseholds in the woods describe the domestic arrangement as crude,establishing a home in the wood was an integration of lack of privacyand space and exhausting cooking condition.
Thesparsely located households in the West contribute to the loneliness,especially among the frontier women. Wives such as Mrs. Claver andMr. River’s wife depend on their husband’s capability to succeedon the frontier. As their spouses are busy out of the home, bothwomen confine themselves in their households due to the long distanceapart covered in pain of loneliness (Kirkland 245). The isolation inthe woods is enhanced by their awareness of social classes feelingsuperior to the peasant frontier. The knowledgeable frontier womendisregard the norms connected to the code of dressing and tablemanners taking pride in their simple habits such as smoking which areseen as unfeminine. To this point, Kirkland also depicts thesatirical gender role of women confined to staying home and dependingon their husbands.
Thefrontier women have their own social class, as described by Mrs.Clavers. They appear to work hard, dress poorly, live in the mostunpleasant style, growing poorer and denying themselves and theirfamilies even life necessities. Her judgment was perceived asdegrading frontier customs even though she believed her silentexample would bring about improvement in the border. She ispowerless in the face ungoverned emigrants as portrayed in the storyof the Newlands who could not respect her education or share theenthusiasm towards adopting refined manners (Kirkland 187).
Mrs.Clavers changes her attitude towards her uncultured neighborhood asnoted when she gives a new genteel lady the social reality on thefrontier. She teaches Mrs. Rivers not to disregard her ruralneighbors, as she might need their help anytime (Kirkland 111). Mrs.Clavers learns that proud superiority attitude does not apply onFrontier. There is need to uphold the legendary status to survive.
Inthe final chapter of the book, Mrs. Clavers notes the disappointmentof the genteel people who are used to leisure experiences whenadapting to the lifestyle of the woods. Their trials when confrontingthe fiction-based facts with the reality of the wilderness made thefrontier lady to relinquish white dress fantasy replacing it with aless stylish dress that suits an agricultural frontier (Kirkland256).
Inconclusion, Mrs. Clavers learns to understand the hostile reactionsfrom her neighbors concerning her level of domestic comfort. Sheassociates the disapproval that her neighbors have towards herluxurious possessions as the simplification of life and republicanspirit seen among the western settlers (Kirkland 308). She points outthat the relative wealth, which the inhabitant could boast of was asewing circle, schools, some few carpets, as many as three cows andsilver tea sets. Her dreams to establish a middle-class home on thefrontier vanishes with the efforts of poor communities to abolishsocial classes. She disassociates herself from a relaxed communityand finds a central place in the frontier hierarchy where she settleswith her family. The role of women in this text is depicted asintegral to the success of the family as well as settling in thefrontier.
Kirkland,Caroline M. ANew Home-Who`ll Follow? Or, Glimpses of Western Life.New York: KessingerPublishing,2004. Print.