Criticism of My Antonia
My Antonia by Willa Cather is a novel based on the memories of the protagonist, Jim Burden. Many critics have criticized this novel, and have focused on such literary elements as symbolism, motif, and characterization. The strongest argument however is the one that states that the foundation of every element in the book is based on the personal memories of Willa Cather.
Many critics have discussed the symbolism in this novel. One symbol that some critics have discussed is the plow. It was said that the plow suggests a way of life that not only helps the land to flourish but the individual as well (Brown). Another symbol that many critics discuss is Marek Shimerda. The fact that Marek has webbed hands and feet sets him apart from the other "normal" children who seem to represent creativity and innocence (Shaw). The road that Jim Burden travels on is another symbol that critics focus on quite a bit. It is said that the road symbolizes the "road to destiny" that America itself takes. (Brown). Critics have also pointed out that the red dust that covers everything, the intense heat, the burning wind, the wilting oak groves, and the stifling vegetation represent oppression, paralysis, submergence, and loss of vitality (as in the old ways of life) as opposed to the alternatives of the new world such as discovery and recovery (Holmes).
One thing that many critics have discussed is that the plot of My Antonia revolves around the ideas of childhood and the fact that the structure of the novel is centered around scenes that have to do with children. This shows up in the beginning of the book as ten year old Jim is riding the train from Virginia to Nebraska; and at the end of the book when all of Antonia's children are around (Shaw). A contrasting motif to that of childhood is adulthood. Throughout the book, Cather describes how adulthood has many hardships as compared to the carefreeness of childhood.
Another element of the novel that critics spent a lot of time discussing is characterization. One critic pointed out the fact that many of the characters in My Antonia have imperfections in their physical appearance that seem to bring out the imperfections of society that exist, and put the ideas of "social perfection" on the back-burner (Randall).