The Role of Ethnicity in Literature

887 Words4 Pages
Though it has become less of an issue in recent times, distrust of foreigners has always been an issue. This can be easily observed in Willa Cather’s My Ántonia. Within the first few pages, a statement is made about ‘alienating foreigners’. Jake, a friend and fellow traveler, tells the main character, Jim, that while Ántonia Shimerda has “pretty brown eyes…”, he points out that you are “…likely to get diseases from foreigners.” Jim’s first impression of the Bohemians is that they are illiterate, uneducated, disease-carrying people. Even after Jim learns to accept the Bohemians’ culture, the society around him continues to look down upon the immigrants, proving throughout the book that a culture with outsiders will always scorn those outsiders until they accept the same values and morals.

For instance, on page 16, Otto Fuchs, an Austrian friend, tells Jim’s grandmother that due to politics, “Bohemians has a natural distrust of Austrians”, regarding, of course, the distinct conflict that began WWI. When the Burdens finally meet the Shimerdas at their run-down home, everyone is surprised by Ántonia’s eagerness and impulsiveness. While the Shimerdas are accepting of each other, the Nebraskan-Americans are taken aback by the strange culture with which they’re now living. Even Ántonia notices and tells Jim that while life will “be easy for [him]… [It] will be hard for us,” because the Shimerdas are immigrants. Ántonia even sees that as a young girl, people will not be accepting of her family or herself just because they come from a different culture.

As she ages, Tony Shimerda begins to accept more and more of the “American Way”, even going so far as to change her name from “Ántonia” to “Tony”, a less Czech-sounding name. I...

... middle of paper ...

...uld have sold organs on the black market. However, the fact that they were Jewish seemed to play a vital role in the story for many people. Although it isn’t fair to bring up religion or nationality when the topic at hand is regarding something completely different such as illegal activity or a fatherless baby, human nature seems to prey upon it.

That is, regardless of what people see, they can always find something to dislike in a foreigner solely because their idea of a model citizen is different than their own. When Tony works hard on a farm to help her family, people see her as a ‘man-like woman’. When she plays the part of a girl, people see her as unhelpful. Though she finally ends with an affectionate and happy family, her memories that she shares with Jim all show that the society she lives in has much different morals and values than her own heritage.
Open Document