Ántonia Shimerda, a young immigrant girl of appealing innocence, simple passions, and moral integrity, the daughter of a Bohemian homesteading family in Nebraska. Even as a child, she is the mainstay of her gentle, daydreaming father. She and Jim Burden, the grandson of a neighboring farmer, become friends, and he teaches her English. After her father’s death, her crass mother and sly, sullen older brother force her to do a man’s work in the fields. Pitying the girl, Jim’s grandmother finds work for her as a hired girl in the town of Black Hawk. There, her quiet, deep zest for life and the Saturday night dances lead to her ruin. She falls in love with Larry Donovan, a dashing railroad conductor, and goes to Denver to marry him, but he soon deserts her, and she comes back to Black Hawk, unwed, to have her child. Twenty years later, Jim Burden, visiting in Nebraska, meets her again. She is now married to Cuzak, a dependable, hardworking farmer, and the mother of a large brood of children. Jim finds her untouched by farm drudgery or village spite. Because of her serenity, strength of spirit, and passion for order and motherhood, she reminds him of stories told about the mothers of ancient races.
James Quayle Burden
James Quayle Burden, called Jim, the narrator. Orphaned at the age of ten, he leaves his home in Virginia and goes to live with his grandparents in Nebraska. In that lonely prairie country, his only playmates are the children of immigrant families living nearby, among them Ántonia Shimerda, with whom he shares his first meaningful experiences in his new home. When his grandparents move into Black Hawk, he misses the freedom of life on the prairie. Hating the town, he leaves it to attend the University of Nebraska. There, he meets Gaston Cleric, a teacher of Latin who introduces the boy to literature and the greater world of art and culture. From the university, he goes on to study law at Harvard. Aided by a brilliant but incompatible marriage, he becomes the legal counsel for a Western railroad. Successful, rich, but unhappy in his middle years and in the failure of his marriage, he recalls his prairie boyhood and realizes that he and Ántonia Shimerda have in common a past that is all the more precious because it is lost and almost incommunicable, existing only in memories of the bright occasions of their youth.
Mr. Shimerda, a Bohemian farmer unsuited to pioneer life on the prairie. Homesick for the Old World and never happy in his Nebraska surroundings, he finds his loneliness and misery unendurable, lives more and more in the past, and ends by committing suicide.
Mrs. Shimerda, a shrewd, grasping woman whose chief concern is to get ahead in the world. She bullies her family, accepts the assistance of her neighbors without grace, and eventually sees her dream of prosperity fulfilled.
Ambroz Shimerda, called Ambrosch, the Shimerdas’ older son. Like his mother, he is insensitive and mean. Burdened by drought, poor crops, and debt, he clings to the land with peasant tenacity. Even though he repels his neighbors with his surly manner, sly trickery, and petty dishonesties, everyone admits that he is a hard worker and a good farmer.
Yulka Shimerda, Ántonia’s younger sister, a mild, obedient girl.
Marek Shimerda, the Shimerdas’ youngest child. Tongue-tied and feebleminded, he is eventually committed to an institution.
Mr. Burden, Jim Burden’s grandfather, a Virginian who has bought a farm in Nebraska. Deliberate in speech and action, he is a just, generous man, bearded like an ancient prophet and sometimes speaking like one.
Mrs. Burden, his wife, a brisk, practical woman who gives unstinting love to her orphan grandson. Kindhearted, she gives assistance to the immigrant families of the region, and without her aid the needy Shimerdas would not have survived their first Nebraska winter.
(The entire section is 2,688 words.)