My Antonia Additional Summary

Willa Cather


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

One of Cather’s best-loved novels, My Ántonia is a moving tribute to the spirit of the pioneers whose strength and endurance made possible the settlement of the American frontier. In its portrait of its title character, the book gives an individual face to the myriad experiences facing the immigrants who composed a large portion of the Midwest’s early homesteaders.

The story is told from the point of view of Jim Burden, a young boy from Virginia who has lost his parents and travels to Nebraska to live with his grandparents. On the same train as Jim is an immigrant family, the Shimerdas, whose oldest daughter, Ántonia (pronounced in the Eastern European manner, with accents on the first and third syllables), will become the companion of Jim’s childhood days. Through Jim’s eyes, the reader sees the family’s early struggles as they suffer cold and deprivation in a dugout house, lose the sensitive Mr. Shimerda to suicidal despair, and gradually begin to pull free of hardship through diligence and hard work.

Ántonia Shimerda is an intelligent girl who must forgo any thought of serious study in order to work for her family. First in the fields and later as a “hired girl” in Red Cloud, she is cheerful and uncomplaining, shouldering her share of the backbreaking work required to support a family farm. Ántonia’s patient, gentle spirit stays with Jim long after he has left his small community, coming to represent for him the very best of what the pioneer experience can draw from the individual.

Ántonia is not, however, a simplistic character or a lifeless symbolic figure. Cather...

(The entire section is 668 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Willa Cather’s ambivalent feelings about the Nebraska prairie in which she came to young adulthood are most evident in My Ántonia, her novel about the immigrants who settled there. While she fully understood the inability of some of the settlers to adjust to the harsh extremities of weather and bleak environment, she most admired those who survived, prevailed, and later prospered. The prairie was such a force in her life that it is no wonder that the setting of the novel is considered to have as great an impact on the characters as any other character could have.

My Ántonia is a novel of interaction between people and their environment. The prairie, cruel and lovely, is too palpable, too moving and changing, to evoke picture-postcard images. The seasons are distinct, the extremes great: “Burning summers when the world lies green and billowy beneath a brilliant sky, when one is fairly stifled in vegetation, in the color and smell of strong weeds and heavy harvests; blustery winters with little snow, when the whole country is stripped bare and gray as sheet iron.” The elements are a constant companion. Every day calls for interaction. The sun can be “blinding,” the thaw can be a “broth of grey slush,” the wind can have the “burning taste of fresh snow.” This land is, at times, “impulsive and playful,” able to moan, howl, and sing. The elements are punishing, kind and caressing, acting willfully, just as people...

(The entire section is 460 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Jim Burden’s father and mother die when he is ten years old, and the boy makes the long trip from Virginia to his grandparents’ farm in Nebraska in the company of Jake Marpole, a hired hand who is to work for Jim’s grandfather. Arriving by train in the prairie town of Black Hawk late at night, the boy notices an immigrant family huddled on the station platform. Jim and Jake are met by a lanky, scar-faced cowboy named Otto Fuchs, who drives them in a jolting wagon across the empty prairie to the Burden farm.

Jim grows to love the vast expanse of land and sky. One day, Jim’s grandmother suggests that the family pay a visit to the Shimerdas, an immigrant family just arrived in the territory. At first, the newcomers impress Jim unfavorably. The Shimerdas are poor and live in a dugout cut into the earth. The place is dirty, and the children are ragged. Although he cannot understand her speech, Jim makes friends with the oldest girl, Ántonia.

Jim often finds his way to the Shimerda home. He does not like Ántonia’s surly brother, Ambrosch, or her grasping mother, but Ántonia wins an immediate place in Jim’s heart with her eager smile and great, warm eyes. One day, her father, with his English dictionary tucked under his arm, corners Jim and asks him to teach the girl English. She learns rapidly. Jim respects Ántonia’s father, a tall, thin, sensitive man who had been a musician in the old country. Now he is worn down by poverty and overwork. He seldom laughs any more.

Jim and Ántonia pass many happy hours on the prairie. Then, during a severe winter, tragedy strikes the Shimerdas when Ántonia’s father, broken and beaten by the prairie, shoots himself. Ántonia had loved her father more than anyone else in her family. After his death, she shoulders his share of the farmwork. When spring comes, she goes with Ambrosch into the fields and plows like a man. The harvest brings money, and the Shimerdas soon have a house. With the money left over, they buy plowshares and cattle.

Because Jim’s grandparents are growing too old to keep up their farm, they dismiss Jake and Otto and move to the town of Black Hawk. There, Jim longs for the open prairie land, the gruff, friendly companionship of Jake and Otto, and the warmth of Ántonia’s friendship. He suffers at school and spends his idle hours roaming the barren gray streets of Black Hawk. At Jim’s suggestion, his grandmother arranges with a neighbor, Mrs. Harling, to bring Ántonia into town as her hired girl. Ántonia enters into her tasks with enthusiasm. Jim notices that she is more feminine and laughs more often; though she never shirks her duties at the Harling house, she is eager for recreation and gaiety.

Almost every night, Ántonia goes to a dance pavilion with a group of hired...

(The entire section is 1145 words.)