My Antonia


My Antonia, by Willa Cather, is a novel of family devotion.
It takes place in the small western town of Black Hawk,
Nebraska. The main character of the story, Antonia
Shimerda, is thrust as a young girl from her own native
country into the American prairies. While still a child,
she must deal with the death of her father. He felt that he
couldn't deal with the strains of his new life and support
his family so he committed suicide. She is forced to do the
work of a man and turns from a gentle young lady into a
woman with manlike qualities, in some ways. The elements of
fun in her childhood were few and far in between. Antonia's
life is full of disappointment and she is forced to grow up
much too quickly. The road she takes is full of " ditches
and bends", but it clears and straightens in the end.
As soon as her father is buried, Antonia realizes that she
now has a heavy burden on her shoulders. Since she is one
of the eldest in the family, she must now work to put food
on their table. Her mother is a complainer and can't speak
English, her oldest brother, Ambrosch, is strong, mean and
not well liked, the second oldest brother, Marek, is
mentally and physically disabled and her sister, Yulka, is
still a youngster. With the help of their neighbors, the
Burdens, Antonia is able to establish a meager living for
her family. She does this by working on her farm as well as
the other farms in the area. While this work is very
beneficial for the family, Antonia is turned into a rough
and wild creature.
When she is old enough, Antonia leaves the prairies and
goes in to town to find work. She becomes what we would
call today, a live-in housekeeper. She works hard and sends
all of her wages home to help her mother and siblings on
the farm. The hours were long and the breaks few so when
she did get to go out, Antonia and her friends create quite
a reputation for themselves. She somehow gets mixed up with
the wrong crowd and slowly begins to lose the honor and
respect she worked so hard to gain. Antonia leaves to marry
a " no-good " and comes home alone, sorrowful and dejected.
Her fiance had told her that they had been married but then
ran off without her. Antonia later gives birth to a girl,
the illegitimate child of this supposed marriage. She takes
great pride in her daughter but with her birth, she loses
whatever respect she had left.
Years later, Antonia is found in Hastings, Nebraska,
married with eleven children. Her dream has come true, to
have land of her own and many delightful little children
running wild all over the place. She works hard and is
weary but has been repaid as her wish has been fulfilled.
She has her land, her family, her garden and she still has
the fire of life within her.
Antonia's life was a difficult one. The burdens that she
had to carry were not meant for her shoulders. All through
her life's difficulties she remained devoted to whatever
family she had. Thoughts of her family always came before
thoughts of herself.

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