Antonia Castañeda has utilized scholarship from women’s studies and Mexican-American history to examine nineteenth-century literary portrayals of Mexican women. As Castañeda notes, scholars of women’s history observe that in the United States, male novelists of the period—during which, according to these scholars, women’s traditional economic role in home-based agriculture was threatened by the transition to a factory-based industrial economy—define women solely in their domestic roles of wife and mother. Castañeda finds that during the same period that saw non-Hispanic women being economically displaced by industrialization, Hispanic law in territorial California protected the economic position of “Californianas” (the Mexican women of the territory) by ensuring them property rights and inheritance rights equal to those of males.

For Castañeda, the laws explain a stereotypical plot created primarily by male, non-Hispanic novelists: the story of an ambitious non-Hispanic merchant or trader desirous of marrying an elite Californiana. These novels’ favorable portrayal of such women is noteworthy, since Mexican-American historians have concluded that unflattering literary depictions of Mexicans were vital in rallying the United States public’s support for the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). The importance of economic alliances forged through marriages with Californianas explains this apparent contradiction. Because of their real-life economic significance, the Californianas were portrayed more favorably than were others of the same nationality.

Which of the following could best serve as an example of the kind of fictional plot discussed by Antonia Castañeda?

A land speculator of English ancestry weds the daughter of a Mexican vineyard owner after the speculator has migrated to California to seek his fortune.

A Californian woman of Hispanic ancestry finds that her agricultural livelihood is threatened when her husband is forced to seek work in a textile mill.

A Mexican rancher who loses his land as a result of the Mexican-American War migrates to the northern United States and marries an immigrant schoolteacher.

A wealthy Californiana whose father has bequeathed her all his property contends with avaricious relatives for her inheritance.

A poor married couple emigrate from French Canada and gradually become wealthy as merchants in territorial California.


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