Cultural Clash in Pictures
Harshness vs. Gentility in the Countryside
At first glance, one might think that the painting above is rather charming: a mother and her two daughters picking bouquets of flowers on the prairie as cattle graze on their homestead pasture. However, upon closer inspection, we find the harsh mindset of the American pioneer woman.
The mother, though she wears an appropriate long skirt, has a manly demeanor. Holding the scissors in her right hand with a firm grip, she has a defiant bearing as if she were suspicious that someone might invade her field, steal her flowers and threaten her daughters. She is ready to strike out with her sharp pair of scissors at any unexpected visitor. In her left hand, a lovely bouquet of flowers hangs down to her side like a secondary product of her outdoor excursion.
Her gaze is hard and set, lacking feminine gentility, grace or sweetness. Instead of admiring the lovely flowers that she has just collected, she gazes off into the distance, thinking of the next chore she must tackle that day. Her blouse, open in the front, reveals a careless attitude and neglect of modesty, although a white undershirt is there to succor what would be bordering on indecency in that blouse. It is apparent that her life is turned to work, with no time for leisure or childish fantasies.
This is the Protestant homestead of the American prairie, plain and dreary, alone and isolated in a vast plain. Little effort has been put into making the house beautiful, for practical needs come first. The hard life on the prairie, along with the loneliness and austerity it entails, reflects in the woman’s face. Although she protects her daughters, she is not capable of charming them, for all of her being is turned towards work and practicality.
In imitation of her mother, the eldest daughter shows the same careless disregard for the flowers and seems to look scornfully at her younger sister, who is fully absorbed in the pleasant pastime of collecting another bouquet.
The younger girl, not yet hardened by the prairie life, still has some sense of childhood wonder and innocence. Unaware of her mother's stern mien, she inspects something in the grass that has caught her attention. It absorbs and fascinates her so that, for a moment, she forgets the cares of the harsh world in which she lives. Even though her attention is turned towards that curious thing in the grass, the flowers are not forgotten. She delicately holds her bouquet upward and away from the ground, as a cherished treasure she is trying to protect.
Yet, this sweet little girl, deprived of the Catholic spirit that nourishes feminine gentility even in the countryside, will grow up to be like her mother: bitter, strong, practical and independent, reflecting the harshness of that bleak homestead.
Now, when we look at the next picture, we see that the scenery seems more verdant with a planted array of trees to protect the sturdy house from the wind, and an effort has been made to make it more charming with its pleasant lines. Although the women wear simple farm clothing, they are clean, modest and orderly, despite a hint of Protestantism in the tightly-closed pointed collar of the plain blouse.
In their way of being, these women have a Catholic spirit. The mood is one of serenity and wonder. Admiring the beautiful flowers she is gathering, the woman in the foreground pauses to adorn her straw work hat with a few of them. Clearly she is enjoying the moment of pause in her work, reflecting on the beauty that surrounds her. She is able to admire God’s creation, without viewing it as an obstacle to be conquered or put in its place. Her delicacy and charm speak of an inner beauty of soul.
The little girl in the distance gazes at the lovely woman with admiration. This fortunate child has a model of womanhood that attracts and charms her. Next to the little girl, her mother bends down to cut some flowers, all the while maintaining a spirit of feminine grace. She is calm, dignified, yet attentive to her work. In her, the little girl finds comfort and support.
Living on the prairie away from the city, these women also have hardships to bear, like the woman from the previous painting. However, they engage in their work with a calmness and serenity that help them to maintain their femininity. They do not exude an air of fierce independence, but rather a spirit of conviviality and amiability.
Although they are most certainly accustomed to hard work, their work does not absorb them in a manly fashion nor is it the sole focus of their lives. Instead, these country women have maintained a feminine and gentile spirit, content with their role in life as the helpmate of man.
Posted May 1, 2020