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.)