Who are Peter and Pavel in My Antonia?

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In the 1918 novel My Ántonia by Willa Cather, Peter and Pavel are two Russian immigrants living on a small farm in America. Peter is a physically large and friendly character who is willing to share what he has with his neighbors. Pavel is a determined yet guilty and sickly character who claims on his deathbed to have, during his youth in Russia, thrown his friends from a sleigh to a pack of hungry wolves to protect himself. This act of self-preservation is what drove Peter and Pavel to America. Peter loves America, but after Pavel dies of a work-related injury, Peter ends up selling the farm and leaving to work as a cook on a train. Peter and Pavel are important characters because they provide another view into the hardships of immigrant life and the hard choices many immigrants are forced to make.

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Peter and Pavel are two Russian immigrants who live close to the Shimmerdas and the Burdens. The text hints that Pavel has a past in Russia that seemingly haunts him. They seem to be good people in search of a second chance—a typical motif in the fiction at the time. Pavel dies in the course of the narrative, but the reader learns that he has a guilty conscience because he literally threw someone to the wolves to save himself (see link below). This forces him to leave for America. Pavel dies, supposedly from working too hard. Perhaps one can infer that he had a somewhat intellectual past and was not used to hard physical work? Left without his friend, Peter must sell the little homestead he owned with Pavel.

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