Ecocritical Analysis of Farnham

Although Lawrence crafts a strongly feminist and in ways, ecofeminist analysis of Farnham’s text, she relies primarily on loose theoretical references to support her interpretations, leaving the task of drawing connections to other scholarship largely to the critical reader. Her foundational argument seems to be that Farnham’s straddling of wild and domestic space is a means of redefining the role of women on the frontier. I noticed a conceptual similarity between the middle ground that Lawrence suggests Farnham constructs and what feminist scholar Gloria Anzaldua would call a borderland. Lawrence describes it as a “liminal position on the threshold of two dominant ideologies: an interior, home-centered domesticity and an exterior, frontier individualism” (90). The borderland is meant to serve as a bridge across a cultural divide. In Farnham’s case, she strives to synthesize her in- and outdoor environments: “Building her own house (both interior and exterior) and working her two hundred acres, she is putting her stamp on frontier spaces otherwise appropriated by men” (90).

Farnham is thoroughly dedicated to the pursuit of forging her own path, and she does not shy away from encouraging other women with “fortitude, indomitable resolution, dauntless courage, and a clear self-respect” (156) to do the same. She was likely recording her experience so that her personal success in carving out a liberated space in a male-dominated atmosphere could be an example to women dissatisfied with their narrowly defined role out West. Without explicitly saying so, Lawrence depicts Farnham’s immersion in her environment as a proto-bioregionalist act. Farnham, Lawrence claims, “envisions for the reader a society that works for the land and societal relationships `based on an intimate knowledge of the natural world” (99). Farnham’s esteem for local knowledge and additionally, her tendency to represent her environment as a maternal force clearly converge as an early conception of ecofeminist bioregionalism.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by brightgirl04 on October 27, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    I agree that Farnham’s work helps redefine the role of women on the frontier. Before I read these works I did not think women had a role at all on the frontier. I thought they just moved out west because their husbands decided it was best for the family and they had no choice. I did not know that women took part of working on the land and although Farnahm did not have her husband, she could have found another man to build her a home but instead did it herself. Farnham must have been an inspiration to those who had access to her work and began carving out their own space in a male-dominated society.

    • I think that the construction of a distinctly female space is definitely important. That it occurs in the sort of limnal convergence of wilderness and the domestic seems to be connected with the problem of constructing this space. In other words, where do you place the woman whos identity is so linked to male concepts; where but in this confused- limnal- space can this undetermined ideal exist? This is the strongest tie, I think to ecofeminism, and it is vaguely reminiscent of transcendental philosophy: in order to abolish androcentrism there must be a removal from the flawed system and a construction of someplace new.

  2. Posted by bharta1 on October 28, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    I think a ecocritical bioregionalist approach to Farnham is very good. First, what kind of home and community does she want? Her home begins from the “ashes” of her deceased husband. The ambivalence of the “borderland” (which is an excellent concept) in terms of gender roles is a gold mine for determining what kind of bioregional society. Oddly enough, she creates a work household and farm in a basically lawless frontier, how can this change be limited, say, in today’s culture which is deeply entrenched in the American culture, compared to back then when the country’s sprawl was still in its infantile stages of what it wanted to become. What must enable change now?
    Great topic and I think an important one too.

    Also, I think it might be a good idea to see if there were any other frontier narratives of woman on other borderlands like Mexico or Canada, just for the sake of her contemporaries and comparisons of different frontier environments. Her’s was in California, what about another place not so fertile. How would the environment effect this person? I mean, someone wasn’t so discouraged that they didn’t build a small hut in the middle of the Nevada desert, where other trail riders stopped. What I am articulating poorly is that different environments offer different things.

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