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My Antonia Paperback – September 21, 1995
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It seems almost sacrilege to infringe upon a book as soulful and rich as Willa Cather's My Ántonia by offering comment. First published in 1918, and set in Nebraska in the late 19th century, this tale of the spirited daughter of a Bohemian immigrant family planning to farm on the untamed land ("not a country at all but the material out of which countries are made") comes to us through the romantic eyes of Jim Burden. He is, at the time of their meeting, newly orphaned and arriving at his grandparents' neighboring farm on the same night her family strikes out to make good in their new country. Jim chooses the opening words of his recollections deliberately: "I first heard of Ántonia on what seemed to be an interminable journey across the great midland plain of North America," and it seems almost certain that readers of Cather's masterpiece will just as easily pinpoint the first time they heard of Ántonia and her world. It seems equally certain that they, too, will remember that moment as one of great light in an otherwise unremarkable trip through the world.
Ántonia, who, even as a grown woman somewhat downtrodden by circumstance and hard work, "had not lost the fire of life," lies at the center of almost every human condition that Cather's novel effortlessly untangles. She represents immigrant struggles with a foreign land and tongue, the restraints on women of the time (with which Cather was very much concerned), the more general desires for love, family, and companionship, and the great capacity for forbearance that marked the earliest settlers on the frontier.
As if all this humanity weren't enough, Cather paints her descriptions of the vastness of nature--the high, red grass, the road that "ran about like a wild thing," the endless wind on the plains--with strokes so vivid as to make us feel in our bones that we've just come in from a walk on that very terrain ourselves. As the story progresses, Jim goes off to the University in Lincoln to study Latin (later moving on to Harvard and eventually staying put on the East Coast in another neat encompassing of a stage in America's development) and learns Virgil's phrase "Optima dies ... prima fugit" that Cather uses as the novel's epigraph. "The best days are the first to flee"--this could be said equally of childhood and the earliest hours of this country in which the open land, much like My Ántonia, was nothing short of a rhapsody in prairie sky blue. --Melanie Rehak
From the Back Cover
An enduring literary masterpiece first published in 1918, this hauntingly eloquent classic is an inspiring reminder of the rich past we have inherited. Willa Cather's lustrous prose, infused with a passion for the land, summons forth the hardscrabble days of the immigrant pioneer woman on the Nebraska plains, while etching a deeply moving portrait of an entire community. As Jim Burden revisits his childhood friendship with the free-spirited Antonia Shimerda, we come to understand the sheer fortitude of homesteaders on the prairie, the steadfast bonds cultivated there, and the abiding memories that such vast expanses inspire. Holding the pastoral society's heart, of course, is the bewitching Antonia, whose unfailing industry and infectious enthusiasm for life exemplify the triumphant vitality of an era.
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For Cather, who lived in Nebraska, life on the plains, seen through Jim and Antonia and their families, offers freedom and independence--the kind of sturdy self-reliance that enables children to build strong characters. Though her portrait of life on the farm is sometimes romantic (as seen, for example, with Jim's first Christmas celebration during a snowstorm when everyone is housebound), life is also full of danger and uncertainty, a price farmers are willing to pay to live close to the land and away from cities. Eventually, both Jim and Antonia leave the farm for better opportunities, she to work in Black Hawk, and Jim to attend Harvard. Their paths diverge and do not reconnect for twenty years.
Antonia, as Jim lovingly portrays her, is a character who throws herself into whatever she is doing, whether it is plowing or learning to cook. Her joyful embrace of whatever life offers is a testament to her spirit, which we see as characteristic of the strong, independent prairie women she represents. Jim, on the other hand, though professionally successful, is far more constrained, a man whose character may have been formed on the prairie but whose life has moved toward the hurly-burly of urban life. Antonia becomes Mother Nature or the Earth Mother, a woman surrounded by many children on the farm, while Jim, who works for the railroad and lives in the highly populated east, represents the growing industrialization of the country.
Throughout this warm and sensitive novel, Cather includes many symbols. When Jim, in the presence of Antonia, kills a gigantic snake, the Garden of Eden comes to mind. The seasons dominate the lives of the characters, and some of the saddest events occur in the depths of winter. Roads wind into and out of the farmland and are a sharp visual contrast to the railroad for which Jim eventually works. As Cather develops her characters and follows them for twenty-five years, the reader comes to know them and to understand their choices. A moving tribute to the pioneer spirit and to those, like Antonia, who helped settle the plains. Mary Whipple
The Professor's House (Vintage Classics)
Cather Novels & Stories 1905-1918: The Troll Garden, O Pioneers! The Song of the Lark, and My Antonia
Great Short Works of Willa Cather
Willa Cather: A Biography (Literary Greats)
O Pioneers! (Willa Cather Scholarly Edition)
In the story we learn of the difficulties the Shimerda's have, living in an area where almost no one speaks the language. The only person speaking a close resemblance of their language takes advantage of them.
Antonia is a teenager and yet seems to have the common sense that helps the family from many difficult situations. She and Jim build a relationship that lasts throughout the novel.
The elements that help classify this as a classic include the descriptions of life in rural Nebraska, the treatment that some immigrant farmers receive and the descriptions of the land, family relationships and how two teenagers can overcome obstacles and become lifelong friends.
This is my second reading of the book. The first reading was when I was a teenager, like the main characters. Reading it again as an adult was interesting and a nice experience.
First time we reviewed it no one spoke up. Under Johnston's prodding, no one remembered so called "key points" in it because its dense paragraphs rambled on about nothing FOREVER. It never went anywhere or made any sort of point about anything. Hell, I didn't even remember what happened two pages ago it was so boring. The only points where I was momentarily roused from my coma were during the wolf story and when Jim killed the snake.
The second review in O'Meara's class was actually fun because the entire class spent a full thirty minutes bashing it for many things, including having zero plot and for the narrator Jim being a pathetic, mopey loser that pined over Antonia but never did anything about it. This is the guy we're supposed to be rooting for? Gawd, Jim should have just killed himself and let someone more interesting take over the role of narrator.
Hopefully teachers will get the message and take this, the most boring book ever, off of the required reading list. It completely blows my mind how My Antonia could ever be considered a literary classic. After forcing myself through 150 grueling pages I gave up and threw this book into the fireplace where I happily watched it burn.
If you get assigned My Antonia you have my deepest condolences.
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No free-bees. Do what you got to do. Keep your integrity. Don’t bitch and don’t blame the whole world for the “downs”.Read more