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Life of the Immigrants in My Antonia
William Cather showed a great amount of information about the "old wild west" and the expansion of the United States. In My Antonia, Jim Burden told a story of his childhood, the people in his life, and the struggles he and his surroundings faced during this time.
At age ten, Jim Burden was sent by his relatives to be raised by his grandparents in the Nebraska prairie after his parents died. When he arrived at his new home, he was introduced to a Bohemian family that just immigrated to America; the Shimerdas. Jim and Antonia, the Shimerda's daughter, quickly become friends. They traveled a great distance to meet each other. As immigrants, the Shimerdas were not very wealthy and getting on their feet was difficult. They were cheated into buying their home for more than it should have cost. The family got by on what they had, but ended up needing help from outside families. Mrs. Shimerda ended up getting many useful tools for their home from Mrs. Burden.
The first major hardship the Shimerdas faced was the death of Mr. Shimerda. He shot himself in the mouth and committed suicide. This hurt the family tremendously. Antonia was given the responsibilities that her father had and growing up for her changed in a matter of seconds. She could not join her fellow classmates in school because she had to tend to the work around the house. She became the head of the house. After time, the Shimerdas had a new log home built for them by the neighbors. The family continued to get their necessary items from outside sources and started to build a new life.
Later, the Burdens moved to a town called Black Hawk. They now lived further away from the Shimerdas. Mrs. Burden gets Antonia a temporary job helping their neighbors around the house. Antonia learned English much faster and Jim met many new people. This is where we meet Lena. Lena was a Norwegian girl who later becomes a dressmaker, but distracted men with her flirtatious act and planned never to marry. As Jim met new people and attended the dances put together in the city, he noticed the segregation and the generalizations made about specific people. He didn't like it one bit.
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This book displays many aspects that makes living in this period of time difficult. In order to communicate with other families or travel from one place to another was very difficult and time consuming. The people would have to travel great distances in all types of harsh weather. Jim and his family often traveled by horse in blizzards to reach their destinations. Also, at the beginning of the expansion, there were no roads. This made travel even more difficult. Also, immigration to America was occurring rapidly and many diverse people started to form the new country. There was a lot of segregation and poverty. The immigrants were not wealthy and struggled to survive on what they had. They were tricked into buying expensive items and land and were treated as minors. The different amount of languages spoken also made it extremely difficult to communicate with others. Women were treated disrespectfully as well. The men took advantage of them and they were put to work that was very hard to handle. Life for people at this time was not as easy as it is today.