Free My Antonia Essays: An Analysis


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My Antonia

I think that My Antonia, written in 1918, is one of Cather's finest works. Critic H. L. Mencken thought it to be the most accomplished, and shortly after it was published in 1919 he wrote,

"Her style has lost self-consciousness; her feeling for form has become instinctive. And she has got such a grip upon her materials...I know of no novel that makes the remote folk of the Western praries more real...and I know of none that makes them seem better worth knowing."

One of the high points in the story is the tragic case of Mr. Shimerda's death. In this character Cather shows an almost obsessive longing of hers for the past. A cultered man, Antonia's father cannot handle the hardships he encounters in Nebraska, and longs for his life back in Bohemia. He clings to his Old World wardrobe and foods..."a knitted grey vest, and, instead of a collar, a silk scarf of a dark bronze-green, carefully crossed and held together by a red coral pin." Homesick for his native land Mr. Shimerda shoots himself. Some critics find Cather's recurring preoccupation with the past destructive, T. K. Whipple said that there was an element of passion in the theme. "To have cared intensely about anything, is not to have lived in vain." I think that the theme of the immigrants longing for the past was very fitting. Many of the settlers of the mid-west praries were immigrants, and most did desperately try to cling to their past while building a new life in the melting pot of America. The hardships of the immigrants were not uncommon. Many were forced to go into town to become a "hired girl" as Antonia did before she returned to the farm labor that she enjoyed, where she discovered city life in the dance clubs.

My favorite part about reading My Antonia is the beautiful descriptions of the land and other small details. In this story Jim Burden is not only a narrator for Cather, but for the land. Throughout the story his descriptions bring an eloquent style to her writing and capture the reader into the story. "Everywhere, as far as the eye could reach, there was nothing but rough, shaggy red grass, most as tall as I." In a phrase that is now on Cather's tombstone, he comes to accept the power of the land over him, saying, "That is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great.

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"

One of my favorite passages in the book is right after Mr. Shimerda's suicide, wrapping up the tragic moment into a beautiful and capturing scene:

Years afterward, when the open-grazing days were over, and the red grass had been ploughed under and under until it had almost disappeared from the prairie; when all the fields were under fence, and the roads no longer ran about like wild things, but followed the surveyed section-lines, Mr. Shimerda's grave was still there, with a sagging wire fence around it, and an unpainted wooden cross. As grandfather had predicted, Mrs. Shimerda never saw the roads going over his head. The road from the north curved a little to the east just there, and the road from the west swung out a little to the south; so that the grave, with its tall red grass that was never mowed, was like a little island; and at twilight, under a new moon or the clear evening star, the dusty roads used to look like soft grey rivers flowing past it. I never came upon the place without emotion, and in all that country it was the spot most dear to me. I loved the dim superstition, the propitiatory intent, that had put the grave there; and still more I loved the spirit that could not carry out the sentence - the error from the surveyed lines, the clemency of the soft earth roads along which the home-coming wagons rattled after sunset. Never a tired driver passed the wooden cross, I am sure, without wishing well to the sleeper.

A story about how the people who risked their lives and fortunes in a harsh new land, My Antonia is one of Willa Cather's finer novels, and a must for everyone to read to get a taste of Cather's enchanting writing style, and the beautiful praries of the mid-west. From the Foreword by Kathleen Norris, "In many ways the world of My Antonia is still with us, a neglected but significant part of America."


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