Date of Award

5-2012

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Major

English

Major Professor

Mary E. Papke

Committee Members

Charles Maland, William Hardwig

Abstract

This thesis examines various fictional depictions of Scandinavian pioneer women and their struggle to adapt to the American prairie. It looks specifically at three novels: Johan Bojer’s The Emigrants, O.E. Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth, and Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!. All three novels depict Scandinavian immigrant groups who settle in the Great Plains area during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The thesis looks in detail at the numerous ways in which each author’s female characters adapt or fail to adapt to the landscape, exploring the possible reasons for these successes and failures. It argues that the immigrant characters’ cultural heritage and past experiences heavily shapes their perceptions of the prairie. While male characters tend to be readily adaptable due to a previous history of farm labor, female characters often have difficulty maintaining traditional household duties in the new landscape and must find alternate ways of imposing order in their worlds. The thesis concludes that female characters who are able to see their roles as flexible and shaped by the demands of the landscape fair better than characters who try to impose old ways of living on a new environment.

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