This student edition presents Willa Cather’s landmark novel of immigrant life on the American prairies in a compact and affordable format. The text of the 1918 first edition is lightly annotated, and is accompanied by a chronology of the life of the author, an illustrated introduction to the contexts and major issues of the text in its time and ours, an annotated bibliography for further reading (contexts, criticism, and online resources), and a concise glossary of literary terms. This title is available in print or as a Bedford e-Book to Go.
About the Author
Willa Cather was an American author and pastoralist known for her vivid depictions of the American Midwest and its inhabitants. Her works include Alexander’s Bridge, O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, and many more. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her novel One of Ours in 1923. After receiving great acclaim upon its publication in 1918, My Ántonia was considered an instant classic. Cather continued to write until later in her life despite suffering from an enflamed tendon in her hand. She died in New York City at age seventy-three.
Date of Birth:December 7, 1873
Date of Death:April 27, 1947
Place of Birth:Winchester, Virginia
Place of Death:New York, New York
Education:B.A., University of Nebraska, 1895
Read an Excerpt
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.
Table of Contents
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
- Latrobe Carroll, “Willa Sibert Cather,” Bookman, 3 May 1921
- “A Talk with Miss Cather,” Webster County Argus, 29 September 1921
- Eleanor Hinman, “Willa Cather,” Lincoln Sunday Star, 6 November 1921
- 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
- Randolph Bourne, The Dial, 14 December 1918
- H.W. Boynton, Bookman, December 1918
- C.L.H., New York Call, 13 November 1918
- A.L.A. Booklist, 1918
- Book Review Digest, 1918
- Independent, 25 January 1919
- New York Times, 6 October 1918
- Nation, 2 November 1918
- The Globe and Commercial Advertiser, 11 January 1919
- H.L. Mencken, The Smart Set, 17 February 1919
Appendix G: Photographs of Nebraska
- Primitive Dugout
- Sod House
- Threshing Scene
- The Pavelka Farm
- Anna Sadilek
- Blind Boone
- The University of Nebraska
Appendix H: Immigration to and Migration Across America
- Nebraska Land Company, Czech Language Immigration Poster
- Welcome to the Land of Freedom
- Emigrants Coming to the “Land of Promise”
- Crossing the Great American Desert in Nebraska
Appendix I: Music from My Ántonia
- “Oh, Promise Me”
- “O Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie”
What People are Saying About This
No romantic novel ever written in America, by man or woman, is one half so beautiful as My Ántonia.
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Reading Group Guide
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?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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!
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.
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! :)
It was, for a classic book, perhaps the most interesting of them I have read. Unlike the others it kept me so entertained. I love her writing and this book. The story is great and I can picture the place. I love it.
My mother¿s family homesteaded in Nebraska so this book was one I¿ve wanted to read for awhile and I was glad I finally did and wonder why it took me so long.I enjoyed this much more than I expected to. I¿d heard from friends that this book was boring and a slow read, I didn¿t find that to be the case. I loved l hearing of Antonia¿s life it was kind of Little House on the Prairie for adults. To see how immigrants survived in our new prairie with no grasp of the language and no education, the hardships they went through to carve out a place for themselves a place to belong.I liked that this book wasn¿t predicable what you assumed would happen with Jim & Antonia didn¿t happen, I myself assumed it and was pleasantly surprised and a bit sad, although that ending would have been very predictable.All in all for a classic book I enjoyed it and would recommend if you like American Historical Fiction.
Jim's Antonia. / Copper-red prairie: Toooh-neeey, / My Antonia.Cather's imagery of the prairie is unsurpassed. She not only conveys the appearance, but makes you feel the presence; spring, for instance: "There were none of the signs of spring for which I used to watch in Virginia . . . There was only--spring itself; the throb of it, the light restlessness, the vital essence of it everywhere; in the sky, in the swift clouds, in the pale sunshine, and in the warm, high wind--rising suddenly, sinking suddenly, impulsive and playful like a big puppy that pawed you and then lay down to be petted. If I had been tossed down blindfold on that red prairie, I should have known that it was spring."Her characters are never as noble as the land.Antonia to Jim Burden is a childhood vignette, a sister figure, a romantic kiss rebuffed. He is called away to manhood, but never takes root in his marriage or in his career. He revisits his childhood when he at last visits Antonia on her farm, sleeping in her barn, not in her house, anticipating the happiness of sharing the childhood of her sons until they grow up.Antonia Shimerda perhaps could have made a life with Jim, but she thought first of him as a callow youngster. Later, she recognized his calling and would not see him trapped on the farm, perhaps leading to the same conclusion as Mr. Shimerda's. She herself was trapped--her father's suicide foreclosed an education and the uplifted hopes of the second-generation immigrant. She was recalled to the first generation, worked the family farm in a man's role. Only her children would see a better future. She did what she had to in order to survive--not to the extreme of Peter of the wolves, but she also was made of such stern, but vulnerable, stuff.Antonia made a comfortable life for herself on her own farm--a little island of Bohemia, with a Bohemian husband and nearly a dozen children who spoke only Bohemian at home. Not noble, not heroic, but real, and the best possible given the circumstances. Not a place that Jim could help build, but one where he would always be a welcome guest.
Jim Burden and his grandparents move to Black Hawk (ie Middle of Nowhere) Nebraska at the same time as a family of Bohemian immigrants. Jim tells the story, but while it is autobiographical, it is as much Antonia's story as his own. Antonia is the middle child of the Bohemians. We watch them age to adulthood. There is no single plot thread, but rather each segment of the book has its own story with the same set of characters.
Lyrical writing by Cather provided an emotional connection to my ancestoral roots and deeper understanding of how I came to be the person I am.
What a beautiful classic novel this was, laced with Bohemian traditions and vivid descriptions of the landscape. I will admit that at first this book was a bit difficult for me to read, but once I decided to lock myself away without any distractions I became immersed in the pages. Although the story is about Antonia, I think it is more about how Antonia impacted Jim Burden's life.Jim lived with his grandparents on a farm in Nebraska and his life seemed to change when Antonia moved to a neighboring residence with her Bohemian immigrant family. He becomes very close with Antonia and her brother and can only imagine that they will be friends for many years to come. Antonia's mother is portrayed as a very greedy woman and vocally shares her inhibitions with her neighbors. When times get tough for the family the greed and selfishness seems to spread to her children and this creates a feud of some sort between Jim and Antonia that will last for a couple of years.When Jim's grandparents become too old to manage the farm they move to the city to live. Jim starts to attend school in the city and is introduced to a new set of friends. He sees that an element is missing from these friendships compared to the relationship that he had with Antonia. So you can only imagine his happiness when he learns that Antonia is going to also be moving to the city to work as a servant for a home nearby. Their friendship picks up again as if there were never an argument of any kind in the first place. Lena is another important character in this novel. She becomes a good friend of Antonia's and you can see that she definitely has a much wilder streak about her. Jim worries that Lena will take Antonia down the wrong path and just be a very bad influence on her. I found it very interesting how Cather portrayed both Lena and Antonia when they were young girls, and then as adults. The story was heartbreaking in the sense that you could feel the love that both Jim and Antonia felt for each other, but they never acted upon their feelings. When the book ends Jim seems to come to terms with the direction that his life has taken and how Antonia had affected it. When he catches a glimpse of the life and love in Antonia's eyes at the end of the novel that is all he needs to know that they both had taken the right paths.This book was so much more to me than a classic novel with beautiful descriptive writing. Many of you know that my Grandma recently moved in with me and she is also Bohemian. So as I was reading this book it juggled memories of her life and stories for me. I could see so many comparisons with the Bohemian traditions that it truly amazed me. I found it interesting how Antonia had such a close relationship with her father, as my Grandma's father/daughter relationship was similar. My Grandma will still tell you to this day about the hollyhocks that she grew by her house in the summer. This was a beautiful story and it also created a great book club discussion for my group.
Very interesting book first published back in 1918 or so. It really gives you a feel for the rough life people lived back then.
My Antonia by Willa Cather is a beautifully written book that seemed to me to be like a series of essays. I loved each separate story with all it¿s rich descriptions of homesteading life on the Nebraska plains. The narrator, a young boy growing into manhood is perfectly done, his inquisitive mind and watchful eyes see and note episodes in his daily life in a fresh and believable manner.The Antonia of the title is a high-spirited immigrant Bohemian girl whose family has moved onto the neighbouring homestead. She catches the attention of the narrator and although he is very young, you slowly come to realize that he looks upon her with love. Although there is and never could be a future for these two together, this book is something of a romance as his feelings toward Antonia and his feelings toward the land are so intertwined.Although I wasn¿t totally carried away, I consider myself to be lucky that I stumbled upon this book, a slow starter, it gently enfolds you and by the end of the book, you feel as if you have learned a great deal about life when it was simpler, relationships when they were less complicated, and the simple joy of living. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about the ¿heart¿ of America, and the mixtures of people that settled and developed this land.
I read this book in high school and remembered liking it but not much more. It is a classic for a reason. The prairie is a character in this story. It is unfortunate that we cannot go back and experience that untouched land. The characters fit the place, especially Antonia. I am so glad I went back to this again.
This is a lovely book. Willa Cather tells her story about growing up in the kind of episodic way that most childhoods are remembered in. And, really, My Antonia is about memory, maybe more so than anything else. Cather explores the memories of Jim Burden and his friend Antonia growing up on the Nebraska prarie, but she's also evoking fond memories of the wild American frontier that was vanishing when she wrote the novel. It's a quite emotional read, not in that you'll be crying by the end, but in that Cather manages to depict the emotions her characters experience in their rather ordinary lives in such a realistic way that you can't help but identify. I really enjoyed this book and will definitely be picking up more of Cather's work in the future.
I was expecting more from this one. Considering it's a "classic" and all...*Sigh* Oh well.It's a little about some so-so characters and a lot about life on the Nebraska plains in the early 20th century. The writing was descriptive and captivating at times but the story just didn't get me. Maybe that's why I put it down 2 times and read other books in between. And this is not a long book, people.So, I think the thing I liked most about the book was the title and the author's name. If I had another baby I might name her Willa (but I don't think I will...). So all the pleasure to be had from this book can come from a glance at the cover. :(
This book brought me back to my love of the frontier that I enjoyed so as a girl. I recall reading every Laura Ingalls Wider book inadoration of the characters and the quiet determination one must ahve to live a life ont he land. I still look up to people who work all day and find joy in the small moments of life. I'd forgotten what a life of ease I truly enjoy. This book doesn't radiate hardship but it shares hardshiup with a dignified narration that opens your eyes to a life few of us will ever know. I can see parallels between the immigrants working the land at the turn of the 20th century and the migrant immigrants today that enter the USA. I recommend this book highly and suggest you read in bite size pieces to digest slowly the rich characters and story Willa Cather has woven together.
I was forced to read this book for class, and trust me "forced" is the right word. There is no way I would have read this book had I not been held responsible for knowing what it was about. The writing is inarguably beautiful at times, but there was no distinct plot, very limited characterization, and overall, I think the story could have been told in a better way. I do not have any plans to reread this anytime soon.
"Wellcome to my house"he says the was kniffes,guns and stick bombs all over
A classic historical look on hoew it was in the Old West. I lovee hhow it showed the women of the pioneer days.
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.
Good read ... in it's simplicty it tells a great story of growing up.