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Willa Cather's My Antonia: Enlightening or Depressing? Essay

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When Willa Cather wrote her novel My Antonia in 1918, there probably was not any doubt that it was the story of a woman's accomplishment. However, today there have been many critics that claim this work to be the legacy of a girl's struggle, not triumph. This perception can easily be argued. This leaves readers with the choice of interpreting the book as enlightening or depressing.

My Antonia took place in the late 19th century. Jim Burden narrated his recollections of Antonia's life and their childhood together, after a twenty-year absence. The novel began when the ten-year-old orphaned narrator moved from Virginia to the plains of Nebraska to live with his grandparents. He spent his childhood alongside his grandparents and a neighbor Bohemian on the prairies. This Russian girl, new to America, was Antonia. Jim and Antonia spent endless afternoons together. He taught her English and about America. Her lessons were of life and strength. His daily life on the farm changed when he moved with his grandparents into the nearest town, Black Hawk. Antonia found a job as a house hand in town, even though her family was still on a farm. Their adolescent years were occupied with dances and picnics. Jim went on to college after graduation. Antonia, never able to go to school, was courted but left with a child out of wedlock. However, soon after, she was married to a fellow Bohemian and they had eleven children. This book is the moving story of his friendship with Antonia, his Antonia.

Antonia's life is constantly debated. This fictional character is seen as a failure to many. One of these is William J. Stuckey. His essay included in the Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 31, stated, "Cather and her narrator celebrate one of o...


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...as extremely unusual for the time. Tiny Soderball, another unlikely candidate for success, struck gold out west after leaving Black Hawk a maid. These three women's achievements add to the probability that Antonia's life was commendable.

The entire fact that My Antonia was written by a woman should clearly support that it illustrates women in a positive aspect. In 1920, Mencken wrote My Antonia is "the best piece of fiction ever done by a woman in America." Mencken also stated that Cather "would create her own role in life." This gives the implication that she was an individual of distinction. She gave these traits to Antonia, Mencken said.

Willa Cather's My Antonia is a novel of heroic success to some and of disappointment to others. It is perceived differently by its audiences, as all things in life. It is an excellent piece of work none the less.

 


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