‘The Way Of The World’ by Willa Cather

The Way Of The World by Willa Cather, 1898

The magic trick:

Spinning sexism on its head in what otherwise seems to be a cutesy kids story

“The Way Of The World” welcomes us to Speckleville – where the neighborhood kids pretend to run shops and manage a town. It’s a fun idea for a story. But beneath the Tom Sawyer stuff, there is an interesting take on feminism.

The boys can’t stand the idea of letting a girl into their town. She’ll ruin it all, they say. And wouldn’t you know? They’re right. Mary Eliza opens up shop, and not long after, the town of Speckleville collapses into argument.

But of course the boys weren’t right.

The story, in its own cutesy kidsy kind of way, demonstrates the way that male sexist prejudices can be validated and yet miss the entire point at the same time.

And that’s quite a trick on Cather’s part.

The selection:

So the inhabitants of Speckleville had dwelt together in all peace and concord until Mary Eliza Jenkins had peered at them through the morning-glory vines on her back porch and had envied these six male beings their happiness; for although Mary Eliza was the tom-boy of the street, the instincts of her sex were strong in her, and that six male beings should dwell together in ease and happiness seemed to her an unnatural and a monstrous thing. Furthermore, she and Speckle had played together ever since the days when he had been father to all her dolls and had rocked them to sleep, and until the founding of Speckleville he had openly preferred her to any boy on the street, and she bitterly resented his desertion.

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