My Antonia by Willa Cather

January 4, 2012

Plot summary (from the publisher): Widely recognized as Willa Cather’s greatest novel, My Ántonia is a soulful and rich portrait of a pioneer woman’s simple yet heroic life. The spirited daughter of Bohemian immigrants, Ántonia must adapt to a hard existence on the desolate prairies of the Midwest. Enduring childhood poverty, teenage seduction, and family tragedy, she eventually becomes a wife and mother on a Nebraska farm. A fictional record of how women helped forge the communities that formed a nation, My Ántonia is also a hauntingly eloquent celebration of the strength, courage, and spirit of America’s early pioneers.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • This isn’t the kind of book that immediately grabs you with a page-turning quality; instead, it takes a few days for the wonder of the work to settle in. It was only after I reached the end that I realized what a wonderful journey I’d been on — right along with Jim Burden through his childhood and beyond.
  • I liked that although Antonia didn’t have the glamorous future that she’d once aspired to, she turned out to have a happy life. Yes, she worked hard and never made it out of the small town, but she seemed completely fulfilled and content thanks to her children. Tiny and Lena may have been the more obvious, commercial “successes,” yet I have no doubt that Antonia was happier than those two lonely women.
  • The first section that introduced the Shimerdas was by far the most interesting of the entire novel. Cather was best known for her portrayal of hardworking immigrants laboring on Nebraska farmlands, and that part of My Antonia was perfectly illustrative of Cather’s talents.

Disliked:

  • I wish Antonia had remained the focus of the novel all the way throughout. She kind of dropped out of the story once she had her baby out of wedlock and went back to live with her parents and brother in shame. I didn’t really care about Jim’s college years or his reconnection with Lena; rather, I was just anxious to see what had become of Antonia.
  • I would have preferred a more traditionally structured plot with clear arcs and more well-defined characters.

Rating:

I first read My Antonia by Willa Cather in high school, but decided to revisit it now to see if I could come to appreciate it a bit more now that I’m an adult. Although I’m sure I still missed a lot of the nuances and subtleties that make this one of the standouts of American Literature, I did end up enjoying My Antonia much more than I did when I was a teen. I give the book 4 stars out of 5.

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