The life of Antonia Shimerdas, the main character in Willa Cather's My Antonia, could easily be judged a failure. Perhaps measures of wealth, career, beauty and love fall short when held next to Antonia. If one could categorize life by that unnamable light or spirit which Antonia never loses, she would surpass all who belittle her achievements in other areas.
Where the spirit comes from, no one can say. “Perhaps an ethereal or god-like being takes residence in the person's heart”(Helmick 46). Some may say it's simply the chemistry of human beings to vary in levels of energy, which manifests itself as vigor and enthusiasm for living. “But even one who attributes the undying light to an abundance of hormones or simply luck in life will ultimately hit a barrier to such a theory, as is the case with the timeless heroine, Antonia Shimerdas”(Helmick 48).
Only rarely does the spirit of life embody itself in the eyes of a woman or man. Strangers recognize a striking presence in the eyes of Antonia even as a young child. Her penetrating eyes, like "mirrors of the soul," remind a passenger conductor of the gleam which emanates from a new dollar. Similarly, when first meeting his lifelong friend, the narrator, Jim, is struck by her "big and warm" eyes, which bring forth images of "the sun shining on brown pools in the wood" (Cather 22).
Like many children, the young Antonia exudes a fascination with all nature's things. Yet her connection with the land continues to flourish at the time when other children climb down from the trees and enter the realm of adulthood. In an arduous life of poverty and toil, Antonia embraces her love of the land, harnessing her passio...
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...kept," they could not diminish that which made Antonia blaze-her Inner Light, whose mysterious source remains unnamed, but is forever cherished as a testimony to what it means to truly live.
Works Cited and Consulted
Bloom, Harold, ed. Willa Cather's My Antonia. New York: Chelsea House Publishers. 1987.
Bourne, Randolph. "Review of My Antonia." Murphy's Critical Essays 145-147.
Cather, Willa. My Antonia. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.
Fussell, Edwin. Frontier. American Literature and the American West. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1965.
Helmick, Evelyn. "The Mysteries of Antonia." Bloom's Willa Cather's . . . , 109-119.
Rosowski, Susan J., ed. Approaches to Teaching Cather's My Antonia. New York: The Modern Language Association of America. 1989.
Trilling, Lionel. "Willa Cather." Bloom's Modern Critical Views 7-15.
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