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My Ántonia: 04/15/08
I read Willa Cather's My Ántonia for the Decades Challenge. I wanted to read it after having enjoyed My Mortal Enemy last July. While I enjoyed pieces of My Ántonia, it didn't hold my attention like My Mortal Enemy.
My Antoniais broken into five uneven parts and grew out of some short stories Cather had previous written. The five parts are The Shimerdas (which comprises the largest chunk of the novel), The Hired Girls, Lena Lingard, The Pioneer Woman's Story, Cuzak's Story. It's in the Lena Lingard where the story loses its focus as the narrator, Jim Burden, goes away to college and his attention turns from Ántonia Shimerda to Lena Lingard who is a less interesting character than the Bohemian pioneer.
The settings and themes of My Ántonia are similar to those in On the Banks of Plum Creek (1937) by Laura Ingalls Wilder but they are aimed at an older audience. Cather describes through Jim Burden the way the landscape changes and the rise and fall of the different pioneering waves. Burden arrives in Black Hawk at a time when the sod dugout homes are giving way to A-frame wood houses and the homesteads are being eaten up by wealthier farms. By the novel's conclusion, Burden laments at the way the highways are beginning to criss-cross the landscape cutting through and burying so many of his childhood landmarks. I found that closing observation especially telling given the book's publication in 1918, decades before the two big pushes of interstate highway systems.
My Ántonia's two central themes are the roles that immigrants and women played in shaping the prairie. Burden observes throughout the novel the different cultural backgrounds of the families living near him and how these backgrounds influence the choices the families make in their day-to-day running of their farms and businesses. Then through Ántonia and to a lesser extent the other women in the book, Cather highlights the role women played in these early pioneering years and how often their contribution was belittled or underplayed.
Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I've been wanting to read Cather for years."