What virtues and vices are represented in My Antonia?

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sagetrieb's profile pic

sagetrieb | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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Storytelling is a virtue, something that ordinary people should embrace and enact as a way to constitute and give meaning to their lives. Throughout the novel Cather celebrates storytelling:  the stories Jim tells about Antonia, those Antonia tells about her family, Mr. Shimerda’s tales of the old country, and even the horrid story of the wolves that Pavel must tell on his deathbed to expatiate his sins before he dies. Friendship is also a virtue; indeed, friendship to various people gives meaning to Jim’s  life, and those without friends in the story have a difficult and unpleasant life (such as Mrs. Shimreda, who can receive the help of others but cannot form a bond of friendship with them).  One critic notes that the novel portrays the problems with materialism, in that tructuring one’s life by means of it to attain the American dream  can only end in failure.  Enotes provides a summary of this critical opinion:  “Jim has all the appearances of one who has lived the American dream and achieved fulfillment. But the material fulfillment has not brought the happiness promised. The entire novel is suffused with his melancholy at the loss of something precious--something that existed back in the hard times, now lost amidst comfort and wealth. The whole promise of the dream has somehow slipped through his fingers right at the moment it appeared within his grasp.”

dymatsuoka's profile pic

dymatsuoka | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Among the many virtues represented are humility, as evidenced in the narrator's sense of awe and appreciation of the land, charity, in the way grandmother tries to help her struggling Bohemian neighbors, joy, in the cheerful, positive attitudes of the Shimerda girls even in the face of their utmost destitution, and cleanliness and self-respect, in Mr. Shimerda's demeanor and straightforward declarations of gratitude and need in interacting with the Burdens. 

Some of the vices represented are greed, as embodied by Krajiek, who takes complete advantage of the Shimerdas because he speaks their language, usury (money-lending with exhorbitant interest), with which Cutter victimizes the Russian farmers, and mean-spiritedness, as exemplified by Ambrose.

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