My Ántonia

My Ántonia

One never experiences a book in a vacuum.  Every reader brings a context which informs her reading.  Life experiences, current conflicts, distant memories, hormonal fluctuations, previous reading: all these color the impressions and shape the contours of your interactions.  That’s why re-reading a book from your past can be a novel experience. 

My Ántonia is Jim Burden’s account of  his childhood friend, Ántonia Shimerda. They arrived on the plains of Nebraska on the same night, lived as neighbors on farmsteads and were each other’s only friends while they lived in the country; eventually, societal boundaries separated them.  

When I read Willa Cather’s classic this time, I saw shades of Wendell Berry in Ántonia’s exuberant work ethic and  love for the land, and shadows of The Kiterunner in the contrast between Jim Burden’s position of privilege and the ethnic bias against the immigrant families.  My Ántonia is poignant without pathos, nostalgic without melancholy; homesickness  infused with the passionate joy of Ántonia. 

Willa Cather is known as an author of place, a master of location.  It is true.  When Cather writes about the land, you can see the place, feel the wind, hear the sounds.  This is where her writing is luminous. 

My memory from previous readings was of a sad ending; oh how wrong I was.  The last section of the book, where Jim, now a New York City lawyer, visits Ántonia with her husband and ten children, a farm full of harmony, laughter and work, was my favorite. 

[Jim’s grandfather is asked to pray at an impromptu service for a man who committed suicide]
“Oh, great and just God, no man among us knows what the sleeper knows, nor is it for us to judge what lies between him and Thee.”  He prayed that if any man there had been remiss toward the stranger come to a far country, God would forgive him and soften his heart.  He recalled the promises to the widow and the fatherless, and asked God to smooth the way before this widow and her children, and to “incline the hearts of men to deal justly with her.”  In closing, he said we were leaving Mr. Shimerda at “Thy judgment seat, which is also Thy mercy seat.” p. 134

I was thinking, as I watched her, how little it mattered–about her teeth, for instance.  I know so many women who have kept all the things that she had lost, but whose inner glow had faded.  Whatever else was gone, Ántonia had not lost the fire of life. p.379

…in farmhouses, somehow, life comes and goes by the back door. p.382

[Ántonia’s perceptive comment on depression (sadness) and hard work]
No, I never get down-hearted.  Anton’s a good man, and I love my children and always believed they would turn out well.  I belong on a farm.  I’m never lonesome here like I used to be in town.  You remember what sad spells I used to have, when I didn’t know what was the matter with me? I’ve never had them out here.  And I don’t mind work a bit, if I don’t have to put up with sadness.   p.387

[on Anton Cusak, Ántonia’s husband]
He looked like a humorous philosopher who had hitched up one shoulder under the burdens of life, and gone on his way having a good time when he could.  p.402

[Jim’s observation of Ántonia and Cuzak.  This is my marriage summed up in one sentence.]
Clearly, she was the impulse, and he the corrective.  p.403


9 thoughts on “My Ántonia

  1. I need to reread this book. When my husband and I were first married, he told me that this was one of his favorites (along with Death Comes for the Archbishop), and so I read them. I would like to reread both books now, with the maturity, life experience, and insights from having read so much more — I read with a simple mind some 20 years ago.

  2. Dear Carol,
    Thank you so much for praying for the two families we know who were involved in the car accident tragedy.  I saw your comment at Carmon’s site and appreciate your continued prayers for both families.  Whereabouts in Oregon do you reside?  We are only 1 1/2 hours from the Oregon border in No. CA. 
    Lisa W.

  3. Hey sis,Funny thing, I’m re-reading Song of the Lark for the nth time.   Perhaps I’ll bring it with me when we visit in March.Had a great time with the “kids”Talk to ya soonDanny

  4. OOOOH!!  This book sounds delightful!  I am in the mood to read (usually that means I’m pregnant……I pray not right yet!!)  Anyway, thank you for your book suggestions.  I pointed our pastor and his wife to your site and they have benefited from your wonderful reading challenge lists.  I am in the time of life where if I get involved with a good book my children suffer. So,  I am learning moderation even in this area.  It’s good for me.  Most of my reading is done on the loo (LOL).  

  5. This is a great book!  Love your review, too.  I teach freshman composition at a community college, and this was one of our class novels this past semester.  Have you read Giants in the Earth?  It’s another pioneer story but not as hopeful. 

  6. <table id=”HB_Mail_Container” height=”100%” cellspacing=”0″ cellpadding=”0″ width=”100%” border=”0″ unselectable=”on”>
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    <td id=”HB_Focus_Element” valign=”top” width=”100%” background=”” height=”250″ unselectable=”off”>I have this book listed to read for a couple of challenges in 2008.  I can’t wait!
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  7. I love, love, love this book.  It is my favorite of all Cather’s works.  Our local theatre group did a production of My Antonia a few years back and it was so good I went to see it twice!  Cather’s hometown is just a few hours from where I live~~ there is a little museum in the house where she was born (Red Cloud, NE).  I’m waiting for a couple of my children to read the books before we make the trip~~I think it would multiply my level of enjoyment in visiting.

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