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Date of Award

6-2016

Document Type

Restricted Thesis: Campus only access

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English Composition

Department

English

First Reader/Committee Chair

Doane, Margaret

Abstract

In The Song of the Lark (1915), Willa Cather does something extraordinary by presenting a well-rounded and likeable Mexican character. This is quite different from her contemporaries’ stereotypical depictions of minorities. To include immigrants in a modern novel was avant-garde and radical subject matter; and presenting a realistic, likeable Mexican character was unheard of because the colonized and immigrants were largely ignored in American literature, or deliberately overlooked. When they were included, persistent demeaning views and unflattering Mexican stereotypes were the norm. This paper seeks to explain how positively Cather depicts Mexican characters, decades before Civil Rights. Cather includes the plight of Mexicans in her novel and gives voice to those that were silenced and ignored. Even though she was a bestselling author and considered one of the best American writers of the era, she has not been properly credited for how progressive she was in her treatment of minorities. It is well documented that Cather used juxtaposition and absences in her writing to convey meaning; I build on these absences to add in rhetorical silence and connect her use of silence to the academic conversation about speech in post-colonial analyses. By contextualizing her writings within the period, I demonstrate how progressive her novels are. Even though most depictions of minorities at the turn of the century were stereotypical, Cather diverges from the racism, which makes her decades ahead of her contemporaries in including good immigrants and minorities in American literature.

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