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Willa Cather's masterful portrait of prairie culture, based on her own life. Against Nebraska's panoramic landscape, Cather recreates the life of an immigrant girl who becomes, in the memories of narrator Jim Burden, the epitome of strong and dignifed womanhood.
I first heard of Ántonia on what seemed to me an interminable journey across the great midland plain of North America. I was ten years old then; I had lost both my father and mother within a year, and my Virginia relatives were sending me out to my grandparents, who lived in Nebraska. I travelled in the care of a mountain boy, Jake Marpole, one of the 'hands' on my father's old farm under the Blue Ridge, who was now going West to work for my grandfather. Jake's experience of the world was not much wider than mine. He had never been in a railway train until the morning when we set out together to try our fortunes in a new world.
We went all the way in day-coaches, becoming more sticky and grimy with each stage of the journey. Jake bought everything the newsboys offered him: candy, oranges, brass collar buttons, a watch-charm, and for me a Life of Jesse James, which I remember as one of the most satisfactory books I have ever read. Beyond Chicago we were under the protection of a friendly passenger conductor, who knew all about the country to which we were going and gave us a great deal of advice in exchange for our confidence. He seemed to us an experienced and worldly man who had been almost everywhere; in his conversation he threw out lightly the names of distant states and cities. He wore the rings and pins and badges of different fraternal orders to which he belonged. Even his cuff-buttons were engraved with hieroglyphics, and he was more inscribed than an Egyptian obelisk.
Once when he sat down to chat, he told us that in the immigrant car ahead there was a family from ' across the water' whose destination was the sameas ours.
'They can't any of them speak English, except one little girl, and all she can say is "We go Black Hawk, Nebraska." She's not much older than you, twelve or thirteen, maybe, and she's as bright as a new dollar. Don't you want to go ahead and see her, Jimmy? She's got the pretty brown eyes, too!'
This last remark made me bashful, and I shook my head and settled down to 'Jesse James.' Jake nodded at me approvingly and said you were likely to get diseases from foreigners.
I do not remember crossing the Missouri River, or anything about the long day's journey through Nebraska. Probably by that time I had crossed so many rivers that I was dull to them. The only thing very noticeable about Nebraska was that it was still, all day long, Nebraska.
I had been sleeping, curled up in a red plush seat, for a long while when we reached Black Hawk. Jake roused me and took me by the hand. We stumbled down from the train to a wooden siding, where men were running about with lanterns. I couldn't see any town, or even distant lights; we were surrounded by utter darkness. The engine was panting heavily after its long run. In the red glow from the fire-box, a group of people stood huddled together on the platform) encumbered by bundles and boxes. I knew this must be the immigrant family the conductor had told us about. The woman wore a fringed shawl tied over her head, and she carried a little tin trunk in her arms, hugging it as if it were a baby. There was an old man, tall and stooped. Two half-grown boys and a girl stood holding oilcloth bundles, and a little girl clung to her mother's skirts. Presently a man with a lantern approached them and began to talk, shouting and exclaiming. I pricked up my ears, for it was positively the first time I had ever heard a foreign tongue.
Another lantern came along. A bantering voice called out: 'Hello, are you Mr. Burden's folks? If you are, it's me you're looking for. I'm Otto Fuchs. I'm Mr. Burden's hired man, and I'm to drive you out. Hello, Jimmy, ain'tyou scared to come so far west?'
I looked up with interest at the new face in the lantern-light. He might have stepped out of the pages of Jesse James. He wore a sombrero hat, with a wide leather band and a bright buckle, and the ends of his moustache were twisted up stiffly, like little horns. He looked lively and ferocious, I thought, and as if he had a history. A long scar ran across one cheek and drew the corner of his mouth up in a sinister curl. The top of his left ear was gone, and his skin was brown as an Indian's. Surely this was the face of a desperado. As he walked about the platform in his highheeled boots, looking for our trunks, I saw that he was a rather slight man, quick and wiry, and light on his feet. He told us we had a long night drive ahead of us, and had better be on the hike. He led us to a hitching-bar where two farm-wagons were tied, and 1 saw the foreign family crowding into one of them. The other was for us. Jake got on the front seat with Otto Fuchs, and I rode on the straw in the bottom of the wagon-box, covered up with a buffalo hide. The immigrants rumbled off into the empty darkness, and we followed them.
I tried to go to sleep, but the jolting made me bite my tongue, and I soon began to ache all over. When the straw settled down, I had a hard bed. Cautiously I slipped from under the buffalo hide, got up on my knees and peered over the side of the wagon.
Willa Cather: A Brief Chronology
A Note on the Text
Appendix A: Cather's Revised Introduction to the 1926 Edition of My Ántonia
Appendix B: Cather's "Mesa Verde Wonderland is Easy to Reach"
Appendix C: Cather's "Nebraska: The End of the First Cycle"
Appendix D: Cather's "Peter"
Appendix E: Interviews and Commentary by Cather on My Ántonia
1. Latrobe Carroll, "Willa Sibert Cather," Bookman, 3 May 1921
2. "A Talk with Miss Cather," Webster County Argus, 29 September 1921
3. Eleanor Hinman, "Willa Cather," Lincoln Sunday Star, 6 November 1921
4. Rose C. Field, "Restlessness Such as Ours Does Not Make for Beauty," New York Times Book Review, 21 December 1924
Appendix F: Contemporary Reviews of the Novel
1. Randolph Bourne, The Dial, 14 December 1918
2. H.W. Boynton, Bookman, December 1918
3. C.L.H., New York Call, 13 November 1918
4. A.L.A. Booklist, 1918
5. Book Review Digest, 1918
6. Independent, 25 January 1919
7. New York Times, 6 October 1918
8. Nation, 2 November 1918
9. The Globe and Commercial Advertiser, 11 January 1919
10. H.L. Mencken, The Smart Set, 17 February 1919
Appendix G: Photographs of Nebraska
1. Primitive Dugout
2. Sod House
3. Threshing Scene
4. The Pavelka Farm
5. Anna Sadilek
6. Blind Boone
7. The University of Nebraska
Appendix H: Immigration to and Migration Across America
1. Nebraska Land Company, Czech Language Immigration Poster
2. Welcome to the Land of Freedom
3. Emigrants Coming to the "Land of Promise"
4. Crossing the Great American Desert in Nebraska
Appendix I: Music from My Ántonia
1. "Oh, Promise Me"
2. "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie"
1. For discussion: My Antonia
The first narrator in My Antonia is an unnamed speaker who grew up with Jim Burden and meets him years later on a train. Jim tells his story in response to this mysterious figure, who disappears from the novel as soon as the Introduction is over. How does this first narrator's disappearance foreshadow other withdrawals within this novel, which at times resembles a series of departures? Why might Cather have chosen to frame her narrative in this fashion?
2. When Jim arrives in Nebraska, he sees "nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made." [11-12] Yet at the novel's end that landscape is differentiated. It has direction and color--red grass, blue sky, dun-shaded bluffs. We are reminded of the beginning of the Book of Genesis, and of God's parting of the heavens from the earth. To what extent is My Antonia an American Genesis? What are its agents of creation and differentiation?
3. Just as My Antonia's setting is initially raw and featureless, its narrative at first seems haphazard: "'I didn't arrange or rearrange. I simply wrote down what of herself and myself and other people's Antonia's name recalls to me. I suppose it hasn't any form.'"  Is Burden's description really accurate? Although the narrative proceeds chronologically, its structure is unconventional, as Antonia is present in only three of the five sections and much of her story unfolds via exposition. What effect does Cather produce by telling her story in this fashion?
4. One of the greatest difficulties facing the Shimerdas and other immigrant families is that posed by their lack ofEnglish, which seals them off from all but the most forthcoming of their neighbors. Yet even American-born arrivals to Nebraska find themselves set apart. As the narrator notes in the Introduction, "no one who had not grown up in a little prairie town could know anything about it. It was a kind of freemasonry, we said."  What is the nature of this freemasonry? What experiences do the inhabitants of this world share that are alien--and perhaps incommunicable--to people raised elsewhere? Does the shared experience of the novel's pioneers end up counting for more than their linguistic and ethnic differences?
5. What is it that makes Mr. Shimerda unable to adapt to his new home and ultimately drives him to suicide? Is he simply too refined--too rooted in Europe--to endure the harshness and solitude of the prairie? Before we jump to too easy a conclusion, we might consider the fact that the novel's other suicide, Wick Cutter, is a crass, upwardly mobile small-town entrepreneur. What do these two deaths suggest about the prerequisites for surviving in Cather's world?
6. From their first meeting, when Jim begins to teach Antonia English, he serves as her instructor and occasional guardian. Yet he also seems in awe of Antonia. What is it that makes her superior to him? What does she possess that Jim doesn't? What makes her difference so desirable?
7. At times Jim's feelings towards Antonia suggest romantic infatuation, yet their relationship remains chaste. Nor does Jim ever become sexually involved with the alluring--and more available--Lena Lingard. Curiously, Antonia appears to disapprove of their flirtation. And, whether he is conscious of it or not, Jim seems wedded to the idea of Tony as a sexual innocent. Following the failed assault by Wick Cutter, "I hated her almost as much as I hated Cutter. She had let me in for all this disgustingness."  How do you account for these characters' ambivalent and at times squeamish attitude toward sexuality? In what ways do they change when they marry and--in Antonia's case--bear children?
8. Just as it is possible to read Lena Lingard as Antonia's sensual twin, one can see the entire novel as consisting of doubles and repetitions. Antonia has two brothers, the industrious and amoral Ambrosch and the sweet-natured, mentally incompetent Marek. Wick Cutter's suicide echoes that of Mr. Shimerda. Even minor anecdotes have a way of mirroring each other. Just as the Russians Peter and Pavel are stigmatized because they threw a bride to a pursuing wolf pack, the hired hand Otto is burdened by an act of generosity on his voyage over to America, when the woman he is escorting ends up giving birth to triplets. Where else in the novel do events and characters mirror each other? What is the effect of this symmetry and its variations?
9. In one of her essays, Willa Cather observed, "I have not much faith in women in fiction." [cited in Hermione Lee, Willa Cather: Double Lives. New York, Vintage, 1991, p. 12] Yet in Antonia Cather has created a genuinely heroic woman. What perceived defects in earlier fictional heroines might Cather be trying to redeem in this novel? Do her female characters seem nobler, better, or more deeply felt than their male counterparts? In spite of this, why might Cather have chosen to make My Antonia' s narrator a man?
10. For her epigraph Cather uses a quote from Virgil: Optima dies... prima fugit: "The best days are the first to pass." How is this idea borne out within My Antonia? In what ways can the novel's early days, with their scenes of poverty, hunger and loss, be described as the best? What does Jim, the novel's presiding consciousness, lose in the process of growing up? Does Antonia lose it as well? How is this notion of lost happiness connected to Jim's observation: "That is happiness: to be dissolved into something complete and great"?
11. Although My Antonia is elegiac in its tone--and has been used in high school curricula to convey a conservative view of the American past--it is also notable for its striking realism about gender and culture. Not only does the novel have a female protagonist who prevails in spite of male betrayal and abuse (and two secondary female characters who prosper without ever marrying), it also portrays the early frontier as a multicultural quilt in which Bohemians, Swedes, Austrians, and a blind African-American retain their ethnic identities without dissolving in the American melting pot. Significantly, at the novel's end Antonia has reverted to speaking Bohemian with her husband and children. How important are these themes to the novel's overall vision? Do they accurately reflect the history of the western frontier?
Comparing My Antonia and The Professor's House:
1. How does the small university town in The Professor's House resemble or differ from My Antonia's Black Hawk? To what extent are those differences due to the different historical eras in which the two novels are set? Read together, what kind of relationship do these novels posit between towns and the prairie? Which region does Cather seem to identify with the "best times" of My Antonia's Virgilian epigraph?
2. How do the female characters in The Professor's House compare with those in My Antonia? How do both sets of women confirm or challenge stereotypes about their gender? What significance do you see in the fact that Antonia marries relatively late, and her friends Lena and Tina not at all, while the St. Peter women have married early? What role does class play in Cather's treatment of her female characters?
3. Why is suicide a theme in both novels? What do Cather's suicides appear to have in common? Does she seem to associate the act with moral failure or mental breakdown or portray it as a natural, and even honorable, response to intolerable circumstances? What role did suicide play in the age and society in which Cather wrote? (You may want to look at such novels as Sister Carrie to see how some of her contemporaries treated the same theme.)
4. Given the evidence of these novels, how does Cather seem to view relations between the sexes? What prospects of happiness and fulfillment do they hold for both men and women? Which of her characters ends up happily married and for what reasons? Why do so many others--from Jim Burden to Godfrey St. Peter--end up regretting their attachments?
5. The Professor's House has as its epigraph, "A turquoise set in silver, wasn't it?... Yes, a turquoise set in dull silver." Although these words of Louie's describe a ring that Tom once gave Rosamund and thus allude to the abandoned cliff-dwelling where Tom presumably unearthed it, they may also refer to the structure that Cather uses in this novel. Discuss the way in which the author embeds Tom Outland's narrative within the professor's story. What similarity do you see between this strategy and the embedded narratives in My Antonia?
6. In both My Antonia and The Professor's House Cather uses two sorts of language, one conventional and expository, the other heightened and rhapsodically sensual, a language attuned to colors, fragrances, and grand effects of light and shadow. Where does she employ these different kinds of prose, and to what effect?
Posted January 28, 2014
You can read lots of reviews of this book. It is a beautiful novel about American life on the prairie in the late 1800's. The main characters are an American orphan boy living with his grandparents and am immigrant girl. The story follows them from aged 10 or so thru middle age.
I'll make 1 comment about the 99-cent Nook book. It isn't indexed like a regular nook book, no hot-linked table-of-contents/chapters. No integrated dictionary. I didn't know that when I bought it. I would have bought it anyway. Barnes and Noble, keep the 99-cent books coming!
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Posted January 10, 2014
Enjoyed this book as reading history of long ago reveals how life changes but really don't every hundred years. Love the people in this story.
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Posted January 2, 2014
My Antonia is very exquisite for those who enjoy history, adventures, and suspense. For young aged kids for example middle schoolers through high school is recommended. You won't be disappointed in the piece of literature! :)
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Posted May 19, 2014
I am 11 and have a reading level of a softmore in college. This book put me right to sleep. Unless you are looking for a bedtime story for a fussy toddler, stop here!!!!!!
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Posted September 24, 2013
When i was given this assignment for school, i was somwhat apprehensive because their is a beige blob on the cove, and dont get me wrong, i love beige, i just dont like reading about beige for 300 pages. But i figured, these people are professional educators, they must know what they are doing. About 20 pages into this book, i realized: no they are not professional educators, they are inflictory of child mental torture. This book has no story line, and the whole book is about( as probibly ptesumed by the cover) a girl named antonia. In a corn field. In Nabraska. Sounds interesting riight. I am literally warning you for your life.... DO NOT READ THIS BOOK UNLESS YOU ARE IN PRISON AND HAVE NOTHING BETTER TO DO OR KNOW FOR SURE THAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO DIE. Literally by the time i finished this book, blood was pooring out of my eyes. Remenber this, you have been warned. And if your teacher ever mentiong that you might read this book, run out of the classroom dcreaming before it is too late!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Posted July 27, 2013
I vowed to read a few classics, and My Antonia crossed my path first. This book captures life for immigrant families on the prairies. The author excels in providing descriptive detail of the stunning scenery and complex true characters.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 23, 2013
A friend gave me this book and I read it. I thanked my friend many times for gifting me with such a GREAT book, and Cather's other books are just as good.
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Posted May 30, 2013
Posted February 10, 2012
When Willa Cather writes about the immigrants who came to America and settled on the plains of Nebraska, the reader gains an understanding of the history, the hardships and the endurance of these courageous men and women. My Antonia is a classic that endures because of its characters, the excellent writing, and the lessons we can learn of the history of this great country. I waited decades before I picked up this book and I am sorry I waited so long!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 22, 2011
Posted October 21, 2002
I live in NYC and realting my personal experineces to this book was hard. But the one thing that I felt and that the rest of the world can feel is the beauty of the love story. Even though I have never been out side of NYC this book takes my mind body and soul far west. A book you won't be able to put down.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 14, 2000
One summer, one of summer reading books was My Antonia. I waited until the last minute to do it. I had to order it on cassette in order to finish it. I got it and finished it in about a week. It helped me finish it a lot faster, although I didn't like the way I couldn't play it on my normal cassette player. I had to go out and buy a cassette player with ''balance control.'' I also didn't like the way it had a ''B'' side and I got lost several times and it took me a while to find my place. In the end, I was glad I bought it, enjoyed the book, and it helped me immensely. And one more thing. Why do books on cassette cost so much!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 20, 2000
This book was a very quick and easy read but it was enjoyable. It doesn't have a lot of action but it eloquently depicts the way life and love really are. The ending surprised me but I think I liked the book all the more for it. This is a very simple story without a lot of fireworks but it will make you think about all of the truths captured in the tale.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 23, 2000
For a class of high school juniors this book was not rated with an outstanding recomendation. The teens had a hard time keeping interest and reading on was more of a 'required assignment' then a 'I can't wait to see what happens next'. The teens that read this book in my class enjoyed the story line but had a hard time reading because there was nothing that they could relate to. This book would be excilent for adults who can appreciate the work that Willa Cather has done. I have heard nothing but good remarks from the adult world. However I would advise teachers to pick something that would be of more interest to high school aged people.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 3, 2000
Posted December 28, 1999
I loved this book. It wasn't a formulated, by the rules type of romance. It was just beautiful. If you're the type of person who likes lots of adventure and torid romance, it's not for you. However, you enjoy reading about true love and spirit, it's a must read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 6, 1999
The characters in the novel are described in great detail; their personalities were fashioned such a way that the reader receives a true sense of each character. The book was published at a time when women characters were expected to find happiness only in love or marriage. 'My Antonia' gives us a forceful heroine who is independent and strong of mind and body. The use of plot, characters, setting, and perspective open readers eyes to a period in time that most people today can¿t imagine. The novel invites readers to feel the pain, hardships, joy, and satisfaction of the frontier characters. In 'My Antonia,' Cather successfully develops believable characters and an intriguing story of prairie life.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 11, 2013
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Posted October 3, 2011
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Posted September 12, 2011
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