Length: 1606 words (4.6 double-spaced pages)
1. Jim Burden, a successful New York City lawyer, leaves an acquaintance a memoir of his Nebraska childhood in the form of a recollection of their mutual friend, Antonia Shimerda.
Jim had first arrived in Nebraska at the age of ten, when he was made the trip west to live with his grandparents after finding himself as an orphan in Virginia. On this same train, Jim has his first glimpse of the Shimerdas, a Bohemian immigrant family traveling in the same direction.
As fate would have it, the Shimerdas have taken up residence in a neighboring farm to the Burdens'. Jim makes fast friends with the Shimerda children, especially Antonia, who is nearest to him in age, and eager to learn English. At her father's request, Jim begins to tutor Antonia, and the two of them spend much of the autumn exploring their new landscape together.
Shortly after Christmas, tragedy strikes with the suicide of Mr. Shimerda. After an emotional funeral, the Shimerdas retreat into despair, and the Burdens struggle to be as accommodating as possible. As a result of the hardships that the Shimerdas suffer, a wedge is driven between Antonia and Jim.
A couple of years later, the Burdens decide to move into town, and shortly thereafter Antonia takes a job as a housekeeper with a neighboring family, the Harlings. Jim begins to see more of Antonia once again, especially when a dancing pavilion comes to town and enlivens the social situation.
Jim's high school years quickly come to a close, and he is offered a spot at the university in Lincoln. He makes a great success of his commencement speech, and spends the summer hard at work in preparation for his course of study. Before leaving, he takes one last trip out to the countryside with Antonia and her friends, where they gather to reminisce about old times together.
In Lincoln, Jim throws himself into his studies, which take up the majority of his time in the first year and a half of his course. In the spring of his second year, he begins to see a good deal of Lena Lingard; a mutal friend of his and Antonia's who has always intrigued Jim. After several months of theater going and dalliances about town, Jim decides he needs to make a fresh start of things and prepares to transfer to Harvard for his final two years of college.
While Jim is away, Antonia gets engaged to a local boy, and makes a move out to Denver in order to be with him. Days before the wedding, he abandons her, and she returns to Nebraska heartbroken. She covers up an unexpected pregnancy throughout its term, but in giving birth to a daughter incurs the disapproval of her family. However, she resolves to take care of her baby, and continues to work on the farm with her brother.
After graduating from college, in the summer before entering law school, Jim returns to Nebraska to be with his grandparents. Upon hearing of Antonia's situation, he decides to drive out to the countryside and visit her. They spend a happy day together reliving old times, and Jim parts with a promise to revisit her soon.
Twenty years pass before Jim is able to bring himself back to visit Antonia again. In the intervening period, he has established himself as a prosperous New York City lawyer, and Antonia has married and borne a dozen children by a man named Cuzak, also of Bohemian origins. Jim's visit to the Cuzak farm is a happy one, with plenty of laughter and stories. Antonia and Jim renew their old ties, and Jim resolves to be in closer contact with the Cuzaks in the coming years.
As he prepares to leave Nebraska and return to New York City, Jim walks along the outskirts of town, near the overgrown road that leads to his childhood home. At peace with himself in this familiar landscape, he feels that his life has come full circle, and reflects in the moonlight on all that his past with Antonia has meant to him.
1. The setting is in Black Hawk, Nebraska and the surrounding countryside in the late years of the nineteenth century. A second setting for the novel is Lincoln, Nebraska where the protagonist goes to the university.
2. The main theme of My Antonia is Jim Burden’s fascination with Antonia as she represents two things: first, she represents an alternative to his life as a middle-class boy. She breaks out of the boundaries of class and gender with seeming ease while he is constrained within them. Second, Antonia represents a close tie to the land. Jim loves the land, but is able to give it up for the successes of the city, while Antonia is happiest when closest to it.
3. Jim Burden is an orphaned at ten, he is sent from Virginia to live with his grandparents on their farm in Nebraska. Antonia Shimerda An immigrant from Bohemia who comes to the prairie at the same time Jim does and who befriends Jim and serves him as a life-long connection to the land.
4. The dominant mood of My Antonia is nostalgic. Jim Burden, the character-narrator, is writing about his childhood on the prairie. He is of a romantic bent and tends to cast all his childhood experiences and all those who played a part in them with a romantic glow. The reader is informed in the introduction that Jim presently lives in New York and is unhappily married. Therefore, his nostalgia for his past perhaps contains within it the longing for having made different choices.
5. The book is written in 1st person.
6. The book is directed to the late teens to adults.
7. Willa Cather was born in 1873 to Virginia and Charles Cather in the state of Virginia. In 1882, when she was nine years old, the family moved to Nebraska. They lived with her paternal grandparents for two years. Then they moved to a nearby town, Red Cloud, where Charles Cather opened a real estate office. On the prairie and in the town, Cather encountered a wide array of immigrants. A great majority had emigrated from Virginia as her family had, but there were many other nationalities represented in
Nebraska during these years. In her later writing, Cather comes back again and again to Red Cloud as a setting. In My Antonia, it is named Black Hawk.
There are many other large-plot parallels between Cather’s life in Nebraska and My Antonia and several oppositions. For instance, Cather like Jim Burden, went to Lincoln, Nebraska to study at the University of Nebraska and she eventually moved to New York, never returning to live in Nebraska. Unlike Jim’s situation as an orphan who goes to live with his paternal grandparents, Cather was the eldest of seven children. In Cather’s life, one can see parallels to several of her characters. Like Frances Harling, Cather was impatient with the constraints of feminine gender roles. She signed her name William Cather and wore her hair closely cut and wore men’s clothes. Like Lena Lingard, Cather never married. On this point, there is a bit of a controversy. Cather refused to let her letters be quoted by any biographer and never wrote anything describing her personal life. From circumstantial evidence however, some scholars argue that Cather was a lesbian. She had several very close friendships with women. One was Isabele McClung, with whom Cather lived while teaching high school in Pittsburgh and with whom she traveled often. A second close feminine figure in Cather’s life was her mentor, the great writer Sarah Orne Jewett. The third was Edith Lewis with whom Cather lived for forty years in New York. In My Antonia, readers might examine the lightly touched upon relationship between Lena Lingard and Tiny Soderwell as a lesbian relationship or the relationship between Peter and Pavel, the Russians who came to the U.S. when one of them was disowned in Russia, as a gay male relationship. These are, of course, only oblique references and Cather’s wishes that her private life remain private keeps us in the dark about the extent of gay sexuality in her fiction.
After college, Cather moved to Pittsburgh where she worked as an editor of a women’s magazine and taught high school English and Latin. Then she moved to New York City to work as an editor for McClure’s Magazine. From her early college days, Cather was writing and publishing. She wrote reviews for the newspapers, and while living in Pittsburgh, published her first collection of poems, April Twilights (1903) and a collection of short stories, The Troll Garden (1905). The latter book helped her get the job in New York where she lived for the rest of her life.
Cather is most known for her novels, but she was a consummate short story craftsperson as well. Most readers find the story "Old Mrs. Harris" to be her best. She wrote her first novel when she was thirty-nine years old, Alexander’s Bridge (1912) set in England. The succeeding novels were all set in the American Midwest: O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), My Antonia (1918) and others. Among her collections of short stories are Youth and the Bright Medusa (1920) and Obscure Destinies (1932).
Cather also wrote of the broader history of European colonialism of the American continent. In Death Comes to the Archbishop (1927) she writes of New Mexico. In Shadows on the Rock (1931) she writes of Quebec. Cather died in 1947 one of the most well respected fiction writers of her era.