My Ántonia

My Ántonia
My Ántonia  
My antonia.jpg
Author(s) Willa Cather
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) (historical fiction)
Publisher Houghton Mifflin (Boston)
Publication date 1918
Pages 175
ISBN ISBN 0-486-28240-6
OCLC Number 30894639
Dewey Decimal 813/.52 20
LC Classification PS3505.A87 M8 1994e

My Ántonia (pronounced with the accent on the first syllable of "Ántonia"),[1] first published 1918, is considered one of the greatest novels by American writer Willa Cather. It is the final book of her "prairie trilogy" of novels, the companion volumes being O Pioneers! and The Song of the Lark.




The book's narrator, Jim Burden, arrives in the fictional town of Black Hawk, Nebraska, on the same train as the Shimerdas, when he goes to live with his grandparents after his parents have died. Jim develops strong feelings for Ántonia, something between a crush and a filial bond, and the reader views Ántonia's life, including its attendant struggles and triumphs, through that lens.

The novel is divided into five books, some of which incorporate short stories Cather had previously written, based on her own life growing up on the Nebraska prairies. The volumes correspond roughly to the stages of Ántonia's life up through her marriage and motherhood, although the third volume, "Lena Lingard," focuses more on Jim's time in college and his affair with Lena, another childhood friend of his, who is also Ántonia's friend.

The five books, in order, are:

  1. The Shimerdas - the longest book within the novel. It covers Jim's early years spent on his grandparents' farm, out on the prairie.
  2. The Hired Girls - the second longest section of the novel. It covers Jim's time in town, when he spends time with Ántonia and the other country girls who work in town. Language, particularly descriptions, begin to become more sexualized, particularly concerning Ántonia and Lena.
  3. Lena Lingard - this chronicles Jim's time at the university, and the period in which he becomes reacquainted with Lena Lingard.
  4. The Pioneer Woman's Story - Jim visits the Harlings and hears about Ántonia's fateful romance with Larry Donovan. This is the shortest book.
  5. Cuzak's Boys - Jim goes to visit Ántonia and meets her new family, her children and husband.


Overview of characters in novel as social network

Jim Burden: The narrator and protagonist of the novel, Jim is a successful lawyer who grew up in Black Hawk, Nebraska

Josiah and Emmaline Burden: Jim's grandparents, living on a farm in Nebraska

Jake Marpole: Farm hand from Virginia at the Burden place

Otto Fuchs: Farm hand from Austria at the Burden place

Ántonia "Tony" Shimerda: The bold and free-hearted young Bohemian girl who moves with her family to Black Hawk, Nebraska

Mr. and Mrs. Shimerda: Ántonia's immigrant parents from Bohemia

Ambrosch, Marek and Yulka: Ántonia's brothers and sister

Anton Cuzak: Ántonia's later husband

Lena Lingard: Hired girl come from the countryside to work in Black Hawk

Tiny Soderball: Hired girl who came from the countryside to work at the Gardener Hotel in Black Hawk

Gaston Cleric: Jim's teacher in Lincoln at the University of Nebraska

Minor characters include: Jade Owens, Peter and Pavel, Ole Benson, The Cutters, Widow Steavens, Anton Jelinek.


Cather chose a first-person narrator because she felt that novels depicting deep emotion, such as My Antonia, were most effectively narrated by a character in the story. [2]

Impact and interpretations

My Ántonia was enthusiastically received in 1918 when it was first published.[3] It was considered a masterpiece and placed Cather in the forefront of women novelists.[4] Today, it is considered as her first masterpiece.[5] Cather was praised for bringing the American West to life and making it personally interesting.[3] It brought place forward almost as if it were one of the characters, while at the same time playing upon the universality of the emotions,[4] which in turn promoted regional American literature as a valid part of mainstream literature.[6]

While interpretations vary, My Ántonia is clearly an elegy to those families who built new lives west of the Mississippi River and highlights the role of women pioneers in particular.

Cather also makes a number of comments concerning her views on women's rights and there are many disguised sexual metaphors in the text.[7]

My Ántonia remains in print in a number of editions ranging from free Internet editions to inexpensive, mass-market paperbacks to expensive "scholarly editions" aimed at more serious students of Cather's work.

Cultural references

A made-for-television movie, also entitled My Ántonia, was based on this novel.

Emmylou Harris' 2000 album Red Dirt Girl features the wistful song "My Antonia," as a duet with Dave Matthews. Harris wrote the song from Jimmy's perspective as he reflects on his long lost love.

The French songwriter and singer, Dominique A, wrote a song inspired by the novel, called "Antonia" (from the LP "Auguri" -2001-).

In Richard Powers' 2006 novel The Echo Maker the character Mark Schluter reads "My Ántonia" on the recommendation of his nurse, who notes that it is "[A] very sexy story....About a young Nebraska country boy who has the hots for an older woman" (page 240).

In Anton Shammas' 1986 novel Arabesques, the autobiographical character of Anton reads "My Ántonia" on the plane to a writers' workshop in Iowa. It is the first novel he ever read, and he expects Iowa to have the same grass "the color of wine stains" that Cather describes of Nebraska.[8]

Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware brews a continually-hopped imperial pilsner named My Ántonia.[9]

See also


  1. ^ Cather, Willa (11 December 2008). Janet Sharistanian. ed. My Ántonia. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 9. ISBN 019953814X. "The Bohemian name Ántonia is strongly accented on the first syllable, like the English name Anthony, and the i is, of course, given the sound of long e. The name is pronounced An'-ton-ee-ah." 
  2. ^ Woodress, James. Willa Cather: A Literary Life. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1987, p. 289
  3. ^ a b Heller, Terry (2007) "Cather's My Ántonia Promotes Regional Literature" pp. 1403-1406 In Gorman, Robert F. (editor) (2007) Great Events from History: The 20th Century: 1901-1940 - Volume 3 1915-1923 Salem Press, Pasadena, California, page 1403, ISBN 978-1-58765-327-8
  4. ^ a b Heller, Terry (2007) "Cather's My Ántonia Promotes Regional Literature" pp. 1403-1406 In Gorman, Robert F. (editor) (2007) Great Events from History: The 20th Century: 1901-1940 - Volume 3 1915-1923 Salem Press, Pasadena, California, page 1404, ISBN 978-1-58765-327-8
  5. ^ Murphy, John J. (1994) "Introduction" to Cather, Wila (1994) My Ántonia Penguin Books, New York, page vii, ISBN 0-14-018764-2
  6. ^ Heller, Terry (2007) "Cather's My Ántonia Promotes Regional Literature" pp. 1403-1406 In Gorman, Robert F. (editor) (2007) Great Events from History: The 20th Century: 1901-1940 - Volume 3 1915-1923 Salem Press, Pasadena, California, page 1405, ISBN 978-1-58765-327-8
  7. ^ Murphy, John J. (1994) "Introduction" to Cather, Wila (1994) My Ántonia Penguin Books, New York, page xV, ISBN 0-14-018764-2, citing analysis by Blanche Gelfant, Deborah Lambert and Judith Fetterley
  8. ^ Shammas, Anton. Arabesques. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988. p. 138.
  9. ^

Further reading


  • Bloom, Harold (editor) (1987) Willa Cather's My Ántonia Chelsea House, New York, ISBN 1-55546-035-6; eleven essays
  • Bloom, Harold (editor) (1991) Ántonia Chelsea House, New York, ISBN 0-7910-0950-5; more essays
  • Lindemann, Marilee (editor) (2005) The Cambridge Companion to Willa Cather Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, ISBN 0-521-82110-X
  • Meyering, Sheryl L. (2002) Understanding O pioneers! and My Antonia: A student casebook to issues, sources, and historical documents Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, ISBN 0-313-31390-3
  • Murphy, John J. (1989) My Ántonia: The road home Twayne Publishers, Boston, Massachusetts, ISBN 0-8057-7986-8
  • O'Brien, Sharon (1987) Willa Cather: The Emerging Voice Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, ISBN 0-19-504132-1
  • O'Brien, Sharon (editor) (1999) New essays on Cather's My Antonia Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, ISBN 0-521-45275-9
  • Rosowski, Susan J. (1989) Approaches to Teaching Cather's My Ántonia Modern Language Association of America, New York, ISBN 0-87352-520-5
  • Smith, Christopher (2001) Readings on My Antonia Greenhaven Press, San Diego, California, ISBN 0-7377-0181-1
  • Wenzl, Bernhard (2001) Mythologia Americana – Willa Cather’s Nebraska novels and the myth of the frontier Grin, Munich, ISBN 978-3-640-14909-4
  • Ying, Hsiao-ling (1999) The Quest for Self-actualization: Female protagonists in Willa Cather's Prairie trilogy Bookman Books, Taipei, Taiwan, ISBN 957-586-795-5


  • Fetterley, Judith (1986) "My Ántonia, Jim Burden, and the Dilemma of the Lesbian Writer" In Spector, Judith (editor) (1986) Gender Studies: New Directions in Feminist Criticism Bowling Green State University Popular Press, Bowling Green, Ohio, pages 43–59, ISBN 0-87972-351-3; and In Jay, Karla and Glasgow, Joanne (editors) (1990) Lesbian Texts and Contexts: Radical Revisions New York University Press, New York, pages 145-163, ISBN 0-8147-4175-4
  • Fischer, Mike (1990) "Pastoralism and Its Discontents: Willa Cather and the Burden of Imperialism" Mosaic (Winnipeg) 23(11): pp. 31–44
  • Fisher-Wirth, Ann (1993) "Out of the Mother: Loss in My Ántonia" Cather Studies 2: pp. 41–71
  • Gelfant, Blanche H. (1971) "The Forgotten Reaping-Hook: Sex in My Ántonia" American Literature 43: pp. 60–82
  • Giannone, Richard (1965) "Music in My Ántonia" Prairie Schooner 38(4); covered in Giannone, Richard (1968) Music in Willa Cather's Fiction University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, pages 116-122, OCLC 598716
  • Holmes, Catherine D. (1999) "Jim Burden's Lost Worlds: Exile in My Ántonia" Twentieth-Century Literature 45(3): pp. 336–346
  • Lambert, Deborah G. (1982) "The Defeat of a Hero: Autonomy and Sexuality in My Ántonia" American Literature 53(4): pp. 676–690
  • Millington, Richard H. (1994) "Willa Cather and "The Storyteller": Hostility to the Novel in My Ántonia" American Literature 66(4): pp. 689-717
  • Prchal, Tim (2004) "The Bohemian Paradox: My Antonia and Popular Images of Czech Immigrants" MELUS (Society for the Study of the Multi- Ethnic Literature of the United States) 29(2): pp. 3–25
  • Tellefsen, Blythe (1999) "Blood in the Wheat: Willa Cather's My Antonia" Studies in American Fiction 27(2): pp. 229–244
  • Urgo, Joseph (1997) "Willa Cather and the Myth of American Migration" College English 59(2): pp. 206–217
  • Yukman, Claudia (1988) "Frontier Relationships in Willa Cather's My Ántonia" Pacific Coast Philology 23(1/2): pp. 94–105

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