Willa Cather's My Antonia (1918) is the story of both Antonia Shimerda, a Bohemian immigrant to the state of Nebraska in the 1880s, and the novel's American-born narrator, Jim Burden. The story is told as Jim relates his own image of Antonia in a nostalgic recreation of his childhood and youth. Their wildly differing places in the social hierarchy account for their respective fortunes. Antonia survives her father's suicide, hires herself out as household help, is abandoned at the altar, gives birth out of wedlock, but achieves fulfillment in her marriage to a Czech farmer, her loving children, and their flourishing farm. Jim, a successful well-traveled and cultured East-coast lawyer, remains romantic, nostalgic, and unfulfilled in life.
This portrait of Antonia is widely acknowledged as one of the most memorable characters in twentieth-century literature. Through her, Cather celebrates the vitality and fruitfulness of the pioneering era as a type of lost paradise. My Antonia is widely considered the best of the author's "Nebraska" novels which reflect her childhood experiences growing up on the plains. Since its appearance, Cather's carefully crafted fiction has gathered a steady following. Her reputation has continued to grow since her death in 1947. Although contemporary reviewers sometimes faulted the author's work as overly nostalgic and obsessed with the past, today critics see Cather's Nebraska novels, and My Antonia in particular, as well-crafted, sympathetic portrayals of the uniquely American experience of immigrant pioneers.