I am proud to write a post about the first book I finished in 2015 concerning an incredibly strong American woman. The novel My Antonia by Willa Cather is a classic American story concerning the childhood of Jim as he moves from Virginia to Nebraska to live with his grandparents. One of the first people he met was a “Bohemian” family called the Shimerdas who had a daughter called Antonia. The novel follows Jim through his childhood and teen years, along with all of the other friends that Jim makes over the course of his life in Nebraska.
Willa Cather is considered one of the pioneering American Female authors and definitely deserves that title. Her novels have exceptionally strong female lead characters, while also contemplating the lives of Mid-America citizens. My Antonia is the second novel of Cather that I have read, and while it was not as good as Lost Lady, it was still a great read and one that I would recommend to females both young and old.
The only novel that I have read that is similar to this is The Jungle by Sinclair, yet while Sinclair’s novel only considered the plight of immigrants and paves the way for the establishments of Unions to protect worker’s rights, Sinclair did not provide an analogy of immigrants’ lives to American citizens’. Cather, alternatively, does provide that contrast through Antonia’s life to that of Jim’s. After her father’s suicide, Antonia is required to work alongside her brother in the fields of Nebraska to provide money for her family’s survival. Antonia retains much of her female traits even though she has to perform as a male in her job. In comparison, Jim takes to schooling and excelling in the academic arena. He goes to college, while Antonia falls in love with a man who gets her pregnant and leaves her. One of the largest themes in this novel for me, was the perception of the challenges women faced in this part of American history and juxtaposing those to their female counterparts. This thematic statement interwoven throughout the novel makes for a fantastic read.
I really cannot say anything too negative about this book. It was a bit bland at times and felt as if Cather sometimes lost the steam, if you will, while writing it. I did get the feeling throughout also, that Cather lost the allure with Antonia and felt a stronger connection to Jim. This is a bit odd to me for the title of the book is Antonia, moreover it was her life that had the most challenges in comparison to Jim’s. Moreover, Jim was just an odd duck, in my humble opinion. He never had a romantic companionship, yet had a mild obsession over Antonia, but never acted on it. The novel also ended oddly, in that after 20 years Jim went to Nebraska in search of Antonia. After meeting her children and husband, he then kept in touch and was a sort of “Uncle” to the kids. I guess perhaps this was a semblance to the life he could have had with Antonia, but in reality, it just was a bit odd.
Clearly, the positives in reading this book outweighed the negatives. Even with all the oddities of the characters, Cather provides a vivid picture of immigrant life alongside American life in the Midwest. The novel is a relatively quick read; one that should be mandated for youngsters in America to read.