On the positive side, one could argue that Willa Cather was a prominent female writer in her own day. She achieved critical and popular success. My Ántonia is often considered her most important novel. Reading it will give significant insights into a major woman writer’s perspectives and techniques. In terms of content, Cather offers a panorama of 19th-century American frontier life that helps readers—especially Americans—understand what frontier life was like for the European immigrant and European-heritage farmers, and what it was like for small-town residents. Focusing specifically on the characters, in line with Cather being a female author, she created a memorable character of a strong, resilient woman in Ántonia. This characterization goes against the grain of most male authors’s depictions of women as submissive and dependent.
Taking the negative perspective, one might present Cather as coming from an elite Virginia family and living only part of her life in Nebraska. The novel, written more than 20 years after she left, offers a nostalgic, unrealistic vision of prairie life. She perpetuates stereotypes about females as earth mothers who are victimized by men, suffer through hardships, and have limited ambition. It is Jim, not Ántonia, who is the protagonist, and by emphasizing his Romantic perspective, Cather misleads the reader. In other ways as well, Cather fundamentally misrepresents life in Nebraska by eliminating references to Native Americans, thereby supporting the myth of the “disappearing Indian,” and implying that only the white Euro-American experience matters.