Written in the style of a memoir, My Ántonia chronicles Jim Burden’s friendship with the daughter of a Czech immigrant family. Recently orphaned, he moves west to Nebraska to live with his grandparents. Riding the same train is the Shimerda family, who are also on their way to settle in the area. The Shimerdas have a difficult life as pioneers: living in a sod house, working the fields, and running out of food in the winter. Jim soon becomes smitten with Ántonia, the eldest daughter, as they grow up and explore the landscape around them together. Through his eyes, we see both how she shapes the land around her and is shaped by the rigors of poverty.
Similarly to Jim, Willa Cather spent her early years in Nebraska but most of her adult life in Eastern cities. She pays homage to her homeland with her Prairie Trilogy of novels, comprised of O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, and My Ántonia. They are tinged with her characteristic straightforward language, reverence for nature, and nostalgia, even as she acknowledges the hardships of the past.
Published in 1918 to great enthusiasm, My Ántonia is considered one of Cather’s finest works and a defining point in her identity as a writer.
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