“There seemed to be nothing to see; no fences, no creeks or trees, no hills or fields. If there was a road, I could not make it out in the faint starlight. There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made.”– Willa Cather, My Ántonia
For someone who grew up watching “Little House on the Prairie”, this was an interesting and nostalgic look at my childhood fancies and romanticized images of frontier life. Making a new life, taming the land, and creating something out of very little all sounded so romantic and magical to me at the time but there was so much that I hadn’t considered, couldn’t have known, with my limited worldly experience. I guess that’s one of the many reasons that literature is so powerful: giving a voice to experiences.
This is a story of the early settlers in Nebraska; a story of hardships, successes, community, change… The story is narrated by an orphaned boy who goes to live with his grandparents after his parents pass away. The narration was very detailed and observant.
The story focuses quite a bit on Ántonia Shimerda, and her Bohemian family.I thought the character of Ántonia was exceptionally well-written; I think she’s one of those unforgettable literary characters, and that’s definitely due to Cather’s amazing writing and depiction of her. Cather manages to show the language development Ántonia goes through,and also the development of her character from being an ordinary little girl playing with her sister and friends, to working “like a mans” in order to support her family:
“The older girls, who helped to break up the wild sod, learned so much from life, from poverty, from their mothers and grandmothers; they had all, like Antonia, been early awakened and made observant by coming at a tender age from an old country to a new.”
Having moved around a bit I really enjoyed the descriptions of the landscapes because at least to me, apart from food, that’s what I miss the most about leaving a place: the familiarity in scenery, flora, and fauna. The small differences in landscape are an unavoidable sign that you are in a new place:
“There was none of the signs of spring for which I used to watch in Virginia, no budding woods or blooming gardens. There was only–spring itself; the throb of it, the light restlessness, the vital essence of it everywhere: in the sky, in the swift clouds, in the pale sunshine, and in the warm, high wind—rising suddenly, sinking suddenly, impulsive and playful like a big puppy that pawed you and then lay down to be petted.”
There was interesting discussion about the European immigrants to the USA. What shouldn’t have surprised me but did anyway, was the fact that even among the European immigrants there was plenty of discrimination and also an unofficial hierarchy. What was universal though was the sense of loss from all the characters who had migrated to that area, despite their origins and loss.
I’m fully convinced of Cather’s writing style. Cather brought the frontier to life for me, the Bohemians, Ántonia, everyone and everything. I loved that she brought to the fore the stories of the people of the New World, especially the women.