“My Antonia”

Do you like Little House on the Prairie? I’m not reviewing it. I’d just thought I’d ask.

Reason I brought up that classic is because my recent read is so similar. Great plains, kids growing up, hardships of the farm…de ja vu.


My Antonia is a book by well-known novelist Willa Cather (1873-1947). The reason her books are loved so much is because she herself grew up on the wild frontier, so everything in her books, most likely, she experienced. You can rely on her historical facts. My Antonia is one of her most famous works. It follows the life of a young boy who moves to the Great Plains, and it talks about all of his experiences. I learned a lot about the frontier by reading this book.

The story covers the life of Jim Burden and life at his grandparents’ house on the Nebraska frontier. After his parents’ death, Jim leaves his old home and moves to the Great Plains with Jake Marpole, a farm hand at his old place. Soon after he settles, a Bohemian family, the Shimerdas, become the Burdens’ new neighbors. The story really tells the life of Antonia, one of their daughters. It tells of her triumphs and struggles through the eyes of Jim. Jim and Antonia become good friends, and Mr. Shimerda asks Jim to teach Antonia better English and more about America. As time goes on, Jim falls in love with Antonia. Later, it turns into a filial love rather than romantic love. Jim leaves for college in the last half of the book, leaving Antonia, the frontier, and everything behind for the big city. It is a long time before Jim returns home. After all his travels and schooling, he visits beautiful Antonia. (I won’t tell you what he finds.) I think the book ends on a positive note, implying that the frontier life never changes, but it changes the people who grow with it.

Hope I didn’t spoil it too much for you…

First, I love the description that Cather writes for every little thing. I have a whole new understanding of frontier life. It was difficult. Sure, there’s rolling plains, lots of space…but there’s much more to it. . Plowing the fields, caring for the animals, making food from scratch, going to town to stock up on supplies—everyone on the farm was working. Also, there was a lack of social life. Even neighbors’ houses were so far apart in distance, they couldn’t visit them very often. There was always work to be done for heaven’s sake! During the winter, neighbors rarely saw each other. Also, out West, they didn’t have high-tech, easy equipment to use around the house. Everything had to be washed, made, cleaned, and worked by hand. This made work harder for everyone on the farm, especially the women and the girls. Yet, despite all these hardships, there was still opprotunity for some farm kids to go off to college in the city. Not everyone did, and those who did were in for a great awakening. Let’s face it: city life is not the same as frontier living.


I mentioned that this book reminded me of Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It does. Because neighbors lived so far apart, and only the men and boys went to town, farm families really bonded together. You can definitely see the strong bond between Jim and his grandparents and even the farm hands. Friendship and family ties add to any story you write. The fact that Jim was close to both of his grandparents and Jake Marpole (a farm hand) really added to the plot and seemed to lighten up the hard frontier life that he had.

Lastly, I will commend Cather on a wonderful storyline. In the middle, it did drag a little bit. But it followed the life of Jim and Antonia. From thier elementary age to post-college, it tells thier story and experiences, whether together or apart from each other. If I dove into any details, you’d be reading this all day. But the bond between them is always there. It’s a theme throughout the book.

All in all, a wonderful work of historical fiction. Willa Cather really brings out frontier life as it really was. The story was intriguing and it kept me reading. I would definitely reccomend this as a must-read for fans of the classics.

All due respect,

~J.L. Cordova


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