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My Ántonia | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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Course Hero. "My Ántonia Study Guide." November 29, 2017. Accessed December 1, 2022.Ántonia/.


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My Ántonia | Quotes


More than any other person we remembered, this girl seemed to mean to us the country, the conditions, the whole adventure of our childhood.

Narrator, Introduction

The unnamed narrator and Jim talk about the girl they both once knew, an immigrant girl named Ántonia. She embodies all that they remember as good and valuable about the specific time and place in which they grew up. She represents to them the ethos of the settling of the plains, signaling that the novel which follows is less a portrait of Ántonia herself than of what she means to Jim.


There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made.

Jim Burden, Book 1, Chapter 1

Jim's initial description of what he sees on his drive from the train station to his new home on his grandparents' Nebraska farm is about what he finds lacking. Jim is overwhelmed by the vast, empty expanse of the prairie coming as he had from the mountains and forests of Virginia. He is struck by the amount of land and unobscured view of the sky that surrounds him. It is a landscape of potential, but not yet a country per se.


Ántonia came up to me and held out her hand coaxingly. In a moment we were running up the steep drawside together.

Jim Burden, Book 1, Chapter 3

Ántonia and Jim are instant friends. She offers him her hand, and with it her friendship. This simple gesture shows her warm, affectionate personality and her enthusiasm for life and exploring the outdoors. Jim is immediately drawn to her and happy to join her in joyful play.


I knew it was homesickness that had killed Mr. Shimerda, and I wondered whether his released spirit would not ... find its way back to his ... country.

Jim Burden, Book 1, Chapter 14

Ill equipped to start a farm, artistic Mr. Shimerda misses his homeland dearly and is weary of the desperate struggle to survive in poverty on the Nebraska plains in winter. He commits suicide. Although his grandmother can't understand why Mr. Shimerda would make such trouble for everyone by killing himself, Jim believes it was his was longing for his own country that really killed Mr. Shimerda. He hopes Mr. Shimerda's spirit will be able to return to his homeland and find peace.


Things will be easy for you. But they will be hard for us.

Ántonia Shimerda, Book 1, Chapter 19

Ántonia recognizes that life for immigrant settlers is more difficult than for people like Jim from families long established in America. As newcomers to the country immigrants face a number of challenges including learning a new language, a lack of community and extended family for support, limited funds, and cultural isolation. Ántonia knows she will have to work harder to achieve her goals, even to survive, than Jim will.


I've seen a good deal of married life, and I don't care for it. I want to ... not have to ask lief of anybody.

Lena Lingard, Book 2, Chapter 4

Lena is determined not to fall into the life her mother had, so she decides she will not marry. Lena has been raised in poverty as part of a very large family. She has many siblings and often wears rags. When she has the opportunity to move to town and learn her own trade, she takes it. She refuses to be dependent on anyone, so she resolves to learn to provide for herself.


We all like Tony's stories ... Everything she said seemed to come right out of her heart.

Jim Burden, Book 2, Chapter 6

Jim and the Harling children enjoy listening to Ántonia tell stories from the country or tales from Bohemia. Ántonia is a natural storyteller, giving life to the characters and feeling to the setting.


Life can't stand still, not even in the quietest of country towns; and [children] have to grow up, whether they will or no.

Jim Burden, Book 2, Chapter 8

As Jim becomes a teenager, the book transitions from a story of childhood to young adulthood, and he reflects on the inevitability of leaving youth behind. As he looks back on that time in his life, he feels the poignancy of that summer when the dancing pavilion was erected in Black Hawk. It signaled a coming of age for him and many of the hired girls.


The country girls were considered a menace to the social order. Their beauty shone out too boldly against a conventional background.

Jim Burden, Book 2, Chapter 9

Jim contrasts the physical vigor of the country girls with the stiff weak bodies of the town girls. He and many town boys find the hired girls from the country very attractive, and some in the town feel this threatens the social order or class system. They want their sons to choose mates from their own set. Town families, no matter how poor, would never allow their girls to work, but ironically the families of the hired girls benefit from their labor, giving the girls an advantage over town girls in the future.


The sky was growing pale, and that forgotten plow had sunk back to its own littleness somewhere in the prairie.

Jim Burden, Book 2, Chapter 14

The iconic image of the plow silhouetted against the setting sun in the novel comes to a melancholy, poignant end as the sun disappears below the horizon and along with the outline of the plough. As a symbol, the plough represents the very way of life that is the subject of the novel, the heroic struggle of immigrants to settle the land and the values Jim draws from the land. By describing the vanishing plough the author laments the long-lost realities of her own childhood, a way of life that no longer exists.


She'd always believe him. That's Ántonia's failing, you know; if she once likes people, she won't hear anything against them.

Lena Lingard, Book 3, Chapter 2

Lena recognizes Ántonia's flaw. She is too trusting of people she loves, ignoring any and all evidence that might be against them. Lena's observation serves to foreshadow Ántonia's tragic relationship with Larry Donovan.


The idea of you is part of my mind ... you really are a part of me.

Jim Burden, Book 4, Chapter 4

Reunited with Ántonia after being away at college, Jim tells her about the connection he feels toward her. She agrees that no matter how far apart they may be, he will always be close to her.


The eyes peering anxiously at me were—simply Ántonia's eyes ... She was there, in the full vigor of her personality, battered but not diminished.

Jim Burden, Book 5, Chapter 1

After 20 years apart, Jim visits Ántonia. He is relieved that his fears about finding her crushed by the difficulties of life are not founded. He recognizes her unchanging spirit which has endured all the struggles of the intervening years. She is still his Ántonia.


She was a rich mine of life, like the founders of the early races.

Jim Burden, Book 5, Chapter 1

Jim meets Ántonia's many children and tours her farm, bursting with bounty. The fertility of her family mirrors the fecundity of the lands she has nurtured. She is rather like an earth mother, an Eve, creating and giving life to a whole tribe of people.


Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.

Jim Burden, Book 5, Chapter 3

As Jim reflects on the story of his life and Ántonia's role in it, he reconciles himself to the fact that their paths, once the same, have diverged. He believes that though they have missed the chance to share a similar destiny, they will always be tied by a shared childhood, a spiritual connection of memory.

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