My Antonia

Cather, Willa

Book - 1996
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
My Antonia
(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed) Of Ántonia, the passionate and majestic central character in Willa Cather's greatest novel, the narrator, Jim Burden, says that she left "images in the mind that did not fade-that grew stronger with time." The same is true of the book in which Cather enshrines her heroine. On one level, My Ántonia is a straight?forward narrative, written in limpid prose of uncanny descriptive accuracy, about the struggles endured by a family of immigrant pioneers and the small community that surrounds them on the unsettled Nebraska plains. On another, it is a novel that represents a perfect marriage of form and feeling. In its magnificent tableaux of human beings caught in the toils of an abundant and overpowering natural world, and in the quiet, understated sympathy it displays for life of every sort, My Ántonia is a novel that effortlessly encompasses history and wilderness and the destiny of the individual-even as it lovingly and unsentimentally portrays a woman whose robust spirit and enduring warmth make her emblematic of what Cather most admired in the American people.

Publisher: New York : A.A. Knopf, c1996
ISBN: 067944727X
Branch Call Number: FICTION CATHER 1996
Characteristics: xxxiii, 272 p. ;,22 cm


From Library Staff

Story of Antonia, an immigrant woman who lives on the Nebraska plains. Told through the words of her childhood friend, Jim.

"After the death of his parents, Jim is sent to live with his grandparents on the Nebraska plains. By chance on that same train is a bright-eyed girl, Antonia, who will become his neighbor and lifelong friend. Her family has emigrated from Bohemia to start a new life farming but soon... Read More »

Also available as a free ebook through Project Gutenberg:

A story of the struggles endured by a family of immigrant pioneers and the small community that surrounds them on the unsettled Nebraska plains.

In Jim Burden's accounting of his life with, and without, Antonia Shimerda, readers are transported to the hardscrabble Nebraska prairie and the rural immigrant experience. When Jim first sees the Shimerda family, immigrants from Bohemia, disembarking from the same train that is taking him West t... Read More »

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Jan 08, 2015

Well-loved author, Kansas-Nebraska pioneer story. Great read.

Aug 28, 2014
  • mclarjh rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Conventional narrative, emotional love.story.

Jul 11, 2014
  • rab1953 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

An interesting reflection on the lives of women settling in the American Midwest in the late 1800’s, this is not exactly what I had been expecting. Much like Angle of Repose, this novel gives a detailed look at the hard life of pioneer women trying to establish their lives in a context of frequently ineffectual men. Curiously, both are narrated by men at the periphery of the central woman’s life.
My Ántonia is great in showing Nebraska prairie life, with the natural beauty of the grasslands in every season, and Cather’s poetic descriptions are quite evocative. Never having been there, I can see from her writing how people can find it beautiful. She also effectively contrasts the beauty with the summer heat and the harshness of the extreme winter. Her description of the first years of the immigrants’ life in a sod hut, and the neighbours’ more established wooden cabin, then the move to town life in Black Hawk, give a realistic picture of settler life. The range of characters is interesting, too, from the eccentricities of the farm hands, the prideful obstinacy of the Ántonia’s brother, the broken nostalgia of Ántonia’s father to the generosity and warmth of Jim Burden’s grandparents and neighbours. Even the bit characters, such as the spiteful town couple always fighting each other, show the range of life in a small town.
Most interesting and memorable are the women: Lena, the free-spirited cow herder, who scandalizes the townsfolk by dancing with any men she chooses, and then becomes a stylish and successful dress maker. Tiny, who leaves the farm to make a fortune in the Klondike and settle in San Francisco. And at the centre, Ántonia, the lively and spirited young girl who captivates Jim with her energy and cheerful disposition. She lives a hard life, and it is to Cather’s credit that she does not romanticize it. She works to support her family, falls for a man who abandons her, and finally starts from scratch again to build a family with a man she loves. Her life, even when she finally makes her family farm a success, is relentless work until her children are old enough to take on some of the chores. Yet through it all, she chooses to make her own way in spite of mistakes and setbacks. She is the figure of the resilient, pragmatic, hard-working American that has become the classic type of American legend. So is it merely ironic that she is a female surrounded by flawed men, an immigrant who never loses her accent, a Catholic who becomes an unwed mother? Cather, even writing in 1918, clearly wants to up-end the stereotype and show something of a different reality.
And what of Jim Burden in all this? As the story begins, he has lost his parents to disease and must go to live with his grandparents in Nebraska. He meets Antonia on the train, and is drawn to her, following her life on the neighbouring farm. As young friends, he falls in love with her, but does not seem to consider her a marriage partner, probably because of their different social status – he is to be a lawyer, and she is a farm girl. As a result, he ends up in a loveless marriage but affluent, while she eventually finds a man to love and turns him into a farmer. And Jim never stops thinking of her, even though he avoids contact for 20 years, and finally seems content when he rejoins her life as a sort of distant visiting uncle to her children. So in the end, he is fulfilled only by a connection to Antonia’s life force and the prairie, however tenuous that is as an eastern lawyer. And that, it seems, is to be his burden – he is privileged and civilized, but his life seems irrelevant – he describes it only in occasional references – and empty compared to the richness and beauty of Ántonia and the prairie.

Jul 01, 2014

I just finished listening to this beautiful novel on an audio tape. I'd like to respond to the commenter who asked about the relalationship between Jim and Antonia. This was the story line I was most interested in. I think the barrier between them stemmed from her view of him as just a young boy. I also think he missed any opportunity to be more than that when he didn't return home after hearing of her plans to marry. I regretted the way he let the distance between them grow but was happy when, at the end, he saw that their paths would once more intertwine.

Jan 28, 2014
  • SusannahElf rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

This is a really lovely book. It reads like a love story to the farming experience. I am not surprised that none of the girls were "scarred" by the harsh experiences they endured, as the previous commenter said. People back then didn't expect their lives to be carefree and without challenges and hard work. This is how my grandmother lived, a few hundred miles north of where this story takes place. These kinds of conditions are potentially scarring and traumatic only if they are very far out of the ordinary, which wasn't the case. At any rate, the writing here is exquisite and poetic, and I also will be looking for more of Willa Cather's books.

Dec 30, 2013
  • DanglingConversations rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

There is a fairy tale quality to this story, somehow none of the girls/ young women are permently scarred by the brutal life they face as pioneers and they all live happily ever after. An interesting literary technique to be writing in the first person but being read by the recipent of the manuscript and 'passed on' to us the reader. It is indeed an American Classic but it is also an American Dream with some of the hard edges softened and a mythic cowboy chilvalary colouring the author's lense.

Dec 17, 2013
  • InvernessS rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

Author Cather is an American treasure, especially this story of life in Early Nebraska. One of my favorites.

Dec 07, 2013
  • CPL_Laura rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

In this lovingly drawn portrait of Nebraska in the late 1800s, narrator Jim Burden recounts his youth and that of his friend, Bohemian immigrant Antonia Shimerda, who “more than any other person . . . seemed to mean to us the country, the conditions, the whole adventure of our childhood.”

Nov 19, 2013

[ALERT - potential spoiler] I am curious to know how other readers felt about the way Jim's relationship with Antonia evolved. What barrier emerged that did not exist between the children?

Jul 15, 2012
  • macierules rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

A wonderfully lyrical and simple description of the immigrant pioneer life...I feel like lying down a field of pumpkins with the sun on my face!

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Jun 05, 2014
  • carlastephenson rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

carlastephenson thinks this title is suitable for 10 years and over

Apr 27, 2012
  • amysueoreilly rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

amysueoreilly thinks this title is suitable for between the ages of 8 and 99


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