Understanding Willa Cather Through “My Ántonia”

It is a common knowledge that the best way to get acquainted with the author is to read as many his books as possible. Every creative person shares his or her feelings and beliefs with the outer world only by means of decoding them in the literary works. It is their own manner to communicate with the audience and make some vitally important impact on the others.

Willa Cather’s oeuvre is not an exception, and her works are the key to the author’s inner world. This woman is one of the popular American writer. According to Stout (2000), the main feature of her creative work is that she usually writes about the frontier life on the Great Plains. She wrote a number of novels on this theme, including O Pioneers!, My Ántonia, One of Ours, and Death Comes for the Archbishop. The matter of fact is that Willa Cather herself had a similar life to her protagonists; for instance, most of her novels are about the life in Nebraska, where the author at the age of nine moved with her family.


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The book My Ántonia is the best source to learn about the author’s personality, get acquainted with her manner of writing, and point out the main themes of Cather’s works. The novel is written in flashback, where one of the characters named Jim Burden tells the story about his childhood on the Nebraska frontier with his grandparents. The story is full of adventures, feelings, love, and disappointment; generally speaking, Willa Cather depicts the real life here.

The protagonist of this book is a Bohemian girl Antonia Shimerda, who moves to Black Hawk, Nebraska, with her family. While reading this novel, it is obvious that the author communicates with the audience via this very heroine. Moreover, Will Cather associates herself with Antonia as even despite the different nationalities, these two women have much in common.

One of the ways to understand the author’s attitude towards life as well as his/her personality is to point out the key themes of a novel or story written by this person. The novel My Ántonia is a story about family relations, friendship, love, immigration, and women’s fate.

Writing about family relations that are depicted by contrasting two very different worlds, namely, Jim Burden’s family and the Shimerdas, the readers notice that the differences in nationalities play the prominent role in the way how two families organize their everyday life. Like her heroine, Willa Cather has a lot of siblings; that is why such trait as responsibility can be traced in both women. For example, Antonia helps her elder brother working in the field to do the hardest work: “Antonia worked in the fields all day and did the chores at night” (Cather,1988, p.60). Later, she moves to town in order to help her family and sends all her money to her siblings.

The themes of love and friendship are interrelated in the novel as the childhood friends Jim and Antonia later fall in love with each other. Despite the difficult circumstances, they love each other till the very end:

For Antonia and for me, this had been the road of Destiny; had taken us to those early accidents of fortune which predetermined for us all that we can ever be. Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past (Cather, 1988, p.160).

Willa Cather experienced a similar situation: being a lesbian, she had a forty-year relationship with Edith White (Lee, 1990).

The other problem that the author raises in her novel is the issue of immigration, which is the best affirmation of the fact that Willa Cather was never indifferent to the political life and social environment in her country. Antonia left her motherland with her family searching for a better life, the so-called American Dream. However, all the Shimerdas face are the difficulties of immigration such as unknown language, alien culture and customs that make the significant impact on their life: “I knew it was homesickness that had killed Mr. Shimerda, and I wondered whether his released spirit would not eventually find its way back to his.

Own country” (Cather, 1988, p.47). The author loves to live on a farm as her heroine does. Although Cather spent the great part of her live in the city, her heart was always on the farm, just like Antonia’s: “I belong on a farm. I’m never lonesome here like I used to be in town. You remember what sad spells I used to have, when I didn’t know what was the matter with me?” (Cather, 1988, p.148).

It cannot be stated that Willa Cather advocates the rural lifestyle in her novel My Ántonia.It is definitely the opposite thing as the author expresses the idea that every person in the world has to find the place where his/her heart and soul will live in harmony. There is no need to chase the riches and fame, because all those material things cannot make a person happier that he is. Sometimes, one may only need to see the sun shining brightly to become the happiest person ever like Antonia Shimerda: “Tony was barefooted, and she shivered in her cotton dress and was comfortable only when we were tucked down on the baked earth, in the full blaze of the sun” (Cather, 1988, p.19).

The extremely bright feature of Cather’s oeuvre is the ability to show the mood and emotions of the main characters as well as the spirit of the place by describing the landscapes: “WHILE THE AUTUMN COLOUR was growing pale on the grass and cornfields, things went badly with our friends the Russians” (Cather, 1988, p.24). The author strongly believes that the whole world changes with the season, which prepares some new trials and minutes of happiness for everyone. The love to nature and such an emotional description of it helps the audience to see the author’s true personality, her inner world full of love, kindness, and care.

To conclude, it is vitally important to emphasize the idea that the book is the soul of the author, her ability to speak with the audience, share all her ideas and experiences, and help the readers to learn the life. After reading the novel My Ántonia, it is possible to deduce once again that Willa Cather was a very talented writer, who had her own secrets of making her books breathtaking. For that very reason, there should be no person in the whole world that may be unfamiliar or indifferent to Willa Cather’s writings. The matter of fact is that the life itself is the main character of her books; that is why those are apathetic to her writings do not know what the real life is and may only be sympathized. Willa Cather was the very interesting and extraordinary person, whose views are really worth to be taken into consideration.

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