I loved My Antonia by Willa Cather when I read it in high school, and when I went to pick it up, I had some dim memories of characters and setting. I recalled that it was about rural Nebraska. It was about a boy and a girl. They lived on farms and played together. It was very cold in the winter. Life was tragic (That Event), and yet Antonia rises above it.
What surprised me was that all of those beautiful country scenes I remembered from the book happened in the first 80 pages! After that, Jim Burden moves to town. I remembered the details as I reread it, and it was kind of a fun experience to reread it for the first time and gain an open mind as my memory of events unfolded just before they would happen.
My Antonia captures a man’s memories of an immigrant girl, Antonia, who moved to Nebraska at the same time he did. Jim Burden and Antonia grew up near each other in the fields. Jim moves to town (Black Hawk), and she eventually follows to be household help for near neighbors. While his life follows different paths than hers, he remembers her and looks her up when he returns to Black Hawk.
My general memories were still correct. Antonia was a girl with positive spunk, even when things got really hard. She had some bad luck, where people took advantage of her. I loved her power to overcome. Jim Burden didn’t always live next to her, but it was also a touching record of how one person influences our memories: Antonia made an impact on his life, even after all those years.
That is why I love this book. Some people can’t get through it: they find the writing dull and the characters and subtle story uninteresting. But I love the way that Jim’s memories of Antonia have stayed with him. I like to think that I’ve impacted lives for the better, much as Antonia impacted Jim’s life.
Did you enjoy My Antonia?