Skip to content

Pioneering Relations…

I finished reading Willa Cather’s My Antonia two days ago and I wanted to wait and assimilate my thoughts before I began blogging about it. My Antonia fell very neatly into two my reading events for December – The Classic Club Spin #8 and heavenali’s Willa Cather Reading Week. When my friends from blogosphere got to know in my previous post that this was in my reading plan, there were lots of good words and encouragement about a book that seemed to be universally liked! Needless to say this added to my angst…I am not too fond of hail the frontier kind of books…I love history but somehow the frontier things, maybe because it has been made so hackneyed and clichéd by popular culture makes me wary. Adding on top of that was my experience that if a book is excessively liked, I will end up NOT liking it; case to the point, my readings of Madame Bovary and Rebecca.

However there was much support and such strong belief among the people I really respected, about this book that I could not give the it up and I ventured forth.

My Antonia” begins with a short introduction by the author about Jim Burden, now a successful lawyer and humane person, who as a boy grew up in Nebraska’s frontier town and country and whose close association with Antonia, made it fitting that it is his story of Antonia is shared with the public

The story then opens with a 10-year-old Jim Burden travelling to Nebraska to live with his grandparents after the death of his parents. On the same train, the conductor lets Jim and Jake, the ranch hand entrusted with getting Jim to Nebraska, that a family from Bohemia is also travelling to the same town of Black Hawk and no one in the family could speak any English, except for the little girl, who could hammer together a few words and was a few years older to Jim. The Shimerdas from Bohemia are Jim Burden’s closest neighbors, come to make their fortune in the new land through farming. On behest of Mr. Shimerda, Jim and his grandmother began to teach Antonia. Their days of childhood is surrounded by games and nature and sunshine and though the Shimerdas are struggling to gain their foothold in the new country, Antonia is the companionship of Jim blossoms into a vivacious, strong girl with sensitivity and delicacy. However the idyllic days come to a halt when Mr. Shimerda commits suicide, grieving over the loss of his place in society and the loneliness of the new country. Antonia then goes to work for her brother, doing hard farm labor, while the Burden’s move to the town of Black Hawk, retiring from their farm. Mr. and Mrs. Harling are their new neighbors and under the influence of Mrs Burden, Antonia starts working in the kitchen for Mrs. Harling. She is much-loved and treated as a family member until an inevitable break comes in this relationship. Antonia’s life then takes on various different paths until takes her almost to the very edge of the precipice, till life comes back to a full circle!

On the face of it, it is indeed a Pioneerish novel, but there is just so much more to it! The characters more than the plot moves this story forward and there is a whole ensemble of this cast, each more memorable than the other; each holding a place in the reader’s heart. Jim Burden is a wonderful, kind generous boy who grows up to be a down to earth generous man. Men like that with honor and care for others are more found in books than in life and more is the pity!!! Naturally the protagonist Antonia is a lovely, courageous girl full of life and though her life chances are often stunted by various events in her life, her duty and her principles raises her from the ordinary. But it’s not just Jim Burden and Antonia’s character that holds you spell-bound, but a host of others as they flit through the lives of these two – the kind and noble Otto Fuchs and Jake Marpole, the very distinguished and kind Josiah and Emmaline Burden and for all her faults Mrs.Harling. You love these characters and wish you had the honor of knowing them all. One of the underlying trait of all Willa Cather’s character is generosity – the ability to help not only when convenient, but even in your extreme distress, if others are in need, you lend a hand. May be it was part of the pioneer culture, may be it was the then sparsely populated difficult land that forced men to be generous towards each other, for if they did not look out for each other, who would have? The land and its culture comes out racing through the book…you can see, hear and even feel Nebraska. There are some lovely and lyrical description of the land and her seasons that takes your breath away!! But most of all I liked and loved the comradery between Jim Burden and Antonia. In today’s day of tagging all relationships and constantly placing a sexual relation in the mix, it’s refreshing to read of a bond of love and friendship and comradery between two people of opposite gender that went beyond the clichéd definitions of a relationship. The relation between Jim and Antonia was so much deeper and closely linked to the very land where they grew up and I am so very impressed that Ms. Cather in an age way before our times where even now friendships between men and women is looked at with skepticism, could not only fathom but also beautifully evolve a rich relationship of depth and platonic love. It is truly brilliantly done!!

Now I know all my friends were right.  As always, a big thank you to Ali, Stefanie, Jane and Cleo for encourging me to read this book!!! I am so glad to have listened to all of you once again and to have read this book!!

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. So glad you enjoyed My Antonia, some books do just seem to be universally loved.

    December 14, 2014
    • Oh!! I agree…and it has every reason to be liked by one and all.

      December 14, 2014
  2. Holy cow, I wonder if a book exists that you like and I hate, or vice versa?! And your words echo exactly what I felt ….a hesitation upon reading it, expecting it to be cliche and then the generosity of the characters and the honour of knowing them ….. Exactly!

    Sigh! Your review brought me right back into the story again. I want to re-read it but there are so many other Cather books to discover. Once again, I’m sad to have missed this reading week, but I’m having fun reading so many wonderful posts!

    (P.S. I didn’t like Madame Bovary either! 😉 )

    December 14, 2014
    • Hahhhahheehhhahhh…Cleo..I am sure we will find a book to ‘violently” disagree on…or at least character..like Mr. Rochester…but going back to My Antonia…the kindness of all was something that really impressed me…While re-reading is awesome …exploring new Cather books is also great so…read the new ones and tell me how they go…I am so glad to find one person who does not like Madame Bovary

      December 14, 2014
  3. Thank goodness – I always worry when I push someone towards an author that they aren’t going to understand and will think I’m mad. This is next on my re-reading Willa Cather in order list and I am so looking forward to it.

    December 14, 2014
    • Jane…you have NEVER suggested a book that I have not liked…I have implicit faith in your recommendations…I am so going to read more Willa Cather

      December 14, 2014
  4. So glad you liked it! Now if you want to read another Cather but would like to get out of the prairie, try Death Comes for the Archbishop. It takes place in New Mexico if I am remembering correctly. You will soon become a complete Cather addict 🙂

    December 16, 2014
  5. I second the suggestion to read Death Comes for the Archbishop. I read it last spring, and it was a rewarding experience. There are memorable characters in that book as well.

    January 5, 2015
    • Thank You for stopping by… I am really looking forward to reading Death Comes for the Archbishop as well as some more of Willa Cather’s other works!

      January 5, 2015
  6. I read this book long ago and barely remember it, but I have it on my list, so I’ll be revisiting it sometime soon!

    January 5, 2015
    • I am sure you will enjoy the re-read. It is one of those books we keep going back to!

      January 5, 2015
  7. I also read My Antonia for Heavenali’s readalong…& adored it!
    I especially loved the descriptions of place which surprised me as I live on the other side of the world from the Nebraskan plains.

    Glad you are a Cather convert now too 🙂

    January 6, 2015
    • Hi Brona…I know…this book is just soooo good! I know what you mean by living on the other side….I am as far away from the “western world” as possible, but that’s the great thing about books….our minds can live a thousand miles away from our physical location – different places and times and people…

      January 6, 2015

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Bookish Snapshots – 2014 | Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses and Prejudices.....

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: