Posts Tagged ‘California In-Doors and Out’

The “Home” Revolution: Ecofeminism in “California, In-doors and Out”

To the modern mind, Eliza Burhans Farnham epitomizes an ideal ecofeminist in much the way that Judith Plant would outline in her essay on ecofeminism. Farnham espouses the interchangeability of roles for men and women, and that one should not dominate the other.

Farnham believes that for a real shift to occur – to from exploitation to harmony – there must be a shift in morality. She states that “The revolution in progress here at this hour will shortly have inaugurated a new and more hopeful state… the present is a war, not between parties or persons, but between principles of good and evil” (vi). Farnham deeply believes that a revolution in society must grow from the ground up, from deep inner principles out to purposeful action. She believes that a woman-centered society is at the core of this shift, which I will touch on a little later.

What interesting is that Judith Plant declares that ecofeminism “has very much to do with a shift in morality, in the attitudes and behaviors of human beings” (81). This means that the woman being the center of the family is more than a woman just taking a role as the leader of the household, but it is the fact that neither man nor woman dominates the other. It is a matter of a shift in morality, that is the revolution that Farnham is speaking about.

One may ask how to go from the abstract (“revolution in morality!”) to the concrete (“how does this work, right now?”). Both Farnham and Plant establish that the “home” is the nexus where the most change shall occur, and the home is the domain of the woman. Farnham states that “The home, holiest and purest nursery of what is good in the heart, springs up everywhere before woman” (285). Judith Plant echoes this principle: “The real work is at home” (82). Home is where core of a family resides – the principles of love and care and gentleness – and both Farnham and Plant imply that because a woman’s “natural” place is in the home, she has the most power to shift the direction of society.

What I find fascinating, though, is that Farnham glorifies the woman who can do everything a man can do – and a man traditionally does his work outside of the home. Farnham states that “it must not be forgotten that life in California is altogether anomalous, and that it is no more extraordinary for a woman to plough, dig, and hoe with her own hands, if she have the will and strength to do so, than for men to do all their household labor for months, never seeing the face of a woman during that time” (28).  Note that Farnham lists all of the backbreaking work that men traditionally do and juxtaposes this with the household labor of a woman coupled with loneliness – she does not say that one is easier than the other. I believe the emphasis here on Farnham’s ecofeminism is not so much the physical structure of the home, but the principle of “home” – that a family must be rooted in one place long enough to work the land and take care of the family unit.

Plant confirms that “the ecofeminist’s task is one of developing the ability to take the place of the other when considering the consequences of possible actions, and ensuring that we do not forget that we are all part of one another” (80). I find it fascinating that Farnham lives the deeper principle of ecofeminism by adhering to the principle that the man and the woman neither dominate one or the other. Feminism is not about the woman being higher than the man, it is about equality, in whatever role that might be. So yes, the woman is at the heart of the home, and she is still supported and protected by the man. And if the man and woman play musical chairs and switch roles, that is fine, as long as the principle of “home” remains the revolution of morality.

Farhham, Eliza W. California In-Doors and Out; On, How We Farm, Mine, and Live Generally in the Golden States. Ch./ Art: Excerpts p. 28-31, 91-94. Pub. Dix, Edwards & Co 1856

Plant, Judith. Home! A Bioregional Reader.Ch./Art: REvaluing Home: Feminism and Bioregionalism; Searching for Common Ground:
Evofeminism and Bioregionalism p. 21-23, 79-82. pub. New Society Publishers 1990


Myths of the American West

As Lawrence states, “[despite] recent studies on western history, women’s diaries, journals, and letters are considered by literary scholars as subliterary- pieces of local color, at best (Lawrence 3). Because women’s writings of the American West and frontier life has been so disparaged, many myths about that land and life have been preserved. Eliza Burhans Farnham’s writing dispels many of the myths, as do many other women’s writings, yet until recently they were considered of little importance which goes to show that men’s accounts are considered more accurate or relevant which perpetuates the myths of the American West surrounding women.

Farnham’s depiction of herself completely contradicts the depiction of women within other texts. The most striking difference is that she did not travel with her husband, but instead with just “her two little sons, a female friend, and a farmer” because she was widowed (Farnham 41). This is in sharp contrast to the usual depiction of women traveling west solely to follow their husbands. This myth persists because “[historians] rarely mention that single and widowed women traveled west” (Lawrence 83). The patriarchal undertones of this seem to indicate that women are unable to be independent, yet that clearly is not the case as Farnham shows well.

Farnham further differs from the usual myths of women on the frontier by being heavily involved in both the building of her home and the farming of her land. She states that it is not “extraordinary for a woman to plough, dig, and hoe with her own hands, if she has the will and strength to do so” (Farnham 28). She did just that, because as a widowed woman on the frontier, “‘women’s work’ was a misnomer- they did whatever work needed to be done” (Lawrence 83). Farnham even finds this work so fulfilling that she laughs at the idea of needing to pay a man to do it (Farnham 107). Although many women, whether they were married, single, or widowed, did do outside work, their lack of presence within literary texts is severely lacking. This is not a problem solely with women in the American West, but for women throughout all time time and places, whose work has gone unnoticed and unrecorded. This myth that women never did work outside the home is not an accidental thing, because the patriarchal society wanted people to believe that the American West was built on the hard work of men alone and that women’s experiences were unimportant, and thus not as instrumental in the settling of the frontier.

Apart from the myths about women in the west, the myth of how the land was settled is also strong. Many people did move west in order to mine, but many also went in order to farm and settle the vast expanses of “uninhabited” land, or ended up farming as a result of finding over-mined land. Farnham specifically addresses this myth by stating that she wants others to know “that there is something in California other than mines” (Farnham 29). So while most of the myths that Farnham contradicts relate specifically to women, she also wants to break myths related to the land itself.

Rewriting “Herstory” in California, In-doors and Out

In Deborah Lawrence’s introduction to Writing the Trail, we are introduced to five revolutionary women who turned the traditional idea of a male dominated western frontier upside down. Lawrence argues that the literary works these women produced showcased the “conflicting versions of the American West” (Lawrence). It is traditionally believed and is “represented in both academia and popular culture” that males were the dominant force in the nineteenth century American West” (Lawrence). However, Deborah Lawrence argues, and Eliza Farnham’s writings confirm, that this is simply not the case.  The myth of a male dominated West is proved false in Farnham’s writings and is seen in her interactions both in-doors and out with her family and her land. Farnham’s writing represents the “herstory” that is left out of our popular misconceptions of the American West (Lawrence).

          The traditional views of the American West would have women in-doors tending to the children and house while the males are taming the wild new lands. However, this is instantly thrown off by Farnham who must fulfill both the male and female roles in her household because her husband is deceased. Farnham walks a fine line of fulfilling both the male and female roles in a household and this is particularly seen in her laying the foundation for her new home. We see a very traditional female gender role in Farnham as she visualizes her new home from parlor to sleeping chambers. However, she rejects the notion of a “shrinking wife, submissively following her husband” or any man for that matter, as she takes up the tools and works on her house by hand (Lawrence). She relishes in the idea of saving money every day by “doing what [she found she could do with her own hands]” instead of paying a man to do it (Farnham). Farnham defys typical gender roles out of both convenience and the innate need to survive on this new and untamed land but by working for herself and both keeping up with her family and land, she rewrite a small bit of history that implies that the American West is a man’s domain.

 Lawrence, Deborah. Writing the Trail. Ch./ Art:85-92 Pub. University of Iowa Press 2006

Farhham, Eliza W. California In-Doors and Out; On, How We Farm, Mine, and Live Generally in the Golden States. Ch./ Art: Excerpts p. 28-31, 91-94. Pub. Dix, Edwards & Co 1856

California Indoors and Out: The Golden State as a Representation of Western Myths

The excerpt from Elizabeth Burhans Farnham’s California Indoors and Out presents a glorified portrait of the state of California as a geographical chosen land that encompasses the gamut of agriculturally conducive terrain—a place where opportunity abounds for the industrious farmer. Deborah Lawrence’s assertion that “women’s western writings create conflicting versions of the myth of the American West” is certainly applicable to this text, as Farnham explicitly relates her gender to the myth that she creates in the book.

Typical myths of the American West portray the stereotype of the land in the Gold Rush era, where rogue men (and, to a lesser extent, their women) traveled in convoys to claim their treasure. Farnham’s myth chooses to romanticize the land moreso than the individual, constructing an image of California as a place where “abundant streams of water, clear and cool as the embowered springs beside which we used to dream away the early mornings in the distant land of our childhood,” flow. (Farnham 37) Here, she relates the landscape to a nostalgic memory, rather than evoking a more utopian view of a prosperous future. This could be interpreted as one of the book’s uniquely feminine characteristics—as it is an instance in which the author focuses less on the more masculine physical cultivation of the land than the emotional response it elicited in her mind.

Farnham’s writing also deviates from the typical Western myth in chapter two of the book, in which she expresses a sense of disenchantment with what she perceives as her failure to adequately perform her feminine domestic duties. Of this disappointment, she writes: “In my meditations I inverted the black walls, turned them inside out, laid an ideal floor, erected imaginary closets, etc., set apart corners for bed-rooms, and I was far advanced in my housekeeping, before I was interrupted by a call from a neighbor,” (Farnham 48). This excerpt presents itself as a dichotomous dream in the author’s mind; she seems at once mystified by the natural beauty of the Californian land on which she lives, and filled with insecurity about her domestic failures. Farnham’s western myth is one that has unavoidable undertones of gender struggle, confirming Deborah Lawrence’s notion of the conflicting world of women’s western writings.

Lawrence, Deborah. Writing the Trail. Ch./ Art:85-92 Pub. University of Iowa Press 2006

Farhham, Eliza W. California In-Doors and Out; On, How We Farm, Mine, and Live Generally in the Golden States. Ch./ Art: Excerpts p.  28-31, 91-94. Pub. Dix, Edwards & Co 1856

Group 2’s Fourth Blog Post

For this blog response, you have a few different writing options. Choose only ONE of these topics to write your response. Be sure to make it clear which question you chose in the subject line of your post. Remember, this blog response is for Group 2 only!

  1.  In her introduction to Writing the Trail, Deborah Lawrence argues that “women’s western writings create conflicting versions of the myth of the American West” (3). What are the typical myths of the American West? After reading Eliza Burhans Farnham’s California: In-doors and Out, do you agree with Lawrence’s argument? Why or why not? What, if any, conflicting versions of this myth does Farnham’s text offer?
  2. In her chapter on Eliza Burhans Farnham, Deborah Lawrence makes several arguments regarding the function of nature/the environment in Farnham’s narrative. In your response, choose one (or a few) of these arguments to critically consider. Do you agree/disagree with her assessment of Farnham’s text? Is there an ecocritical analysis that is missing or underdeveloped in Lawrence’s chapter? Use quotes from Farnham’s text to support your argument.
  3. Write a response in which you analyze Farnham’s use of the word “natural” and how it functions in her text. What behaviors, roles, actions, etc are considered “natural” and why? What value system does Farnham set up with the use of this word? How does Farnham use the term “natural” as part of her rhetorical strategy in this text? How would it be perceived by her Northeastern, female audience?
  4. Write a response in which you consider how Farnham’s depiction and valuation of nature compares to the other writers we’ve encountered so far this semester. In your response, be sure to make close connections between Farnham and another author we’ve read this semester to illustrate your points. If you decide to write about connections between Farnham and Ralph Waldo Emerson or J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, make sure you are adding to (rather than simply repeating) Lawrence’s arguments.

Remember, your posts should follow these requirements and guidelines:

  • Posts must be at least 300 words.
  • Posts must include at least one quote from the text. If you are writing about more than one text, then you’ll need at least one quote from each as support. If the question you chose asks for more than one quote in the instructions above, then be sure to follow those instructions.
  • Stay focused on answering the prompt question above. Avoid repeating the question and be as specific as possible in your answer.
  • Please note that you do not need to answer every “thinking question” I have posted (the questions after the bold directive). These are just options, so you could focus on one or a few. Avoid writing a response that looks like a Q & A or laundry list of answers to these smaller questions; make sure your response flows smoothly and has unity.
  • Your response should make an argument, not summarize the text. If some summary is asked for in the prompt you chose, keep that summary brief and concise.
  • Use specific moments from the text(s) to support and illustrate your argument.
  • Be sure to introduce, quote, cite, and comment on all quotes.
  • Don’t forget to tag your posts! Before adding a new tag, check the “choose from the most used tabs” menu to make sure it is not already listed.
  • Don’t forget your Works Cited!

Group 2, your blog response is due by class time on Tuesday, October 25.

Group 1, blog comments are due by class time on Thursday, October 27.