First sentence: I first heard of Antonia on what seemed to me an interminable journey across the great midland plain of North America. I was ten years old then; I had lost both my father and mother within a year, and my Virginia relatives were sending me out ot my grandparents, who lived in Nebraska.
Premise/plot: Jim Burden recollects his youth in Willa Cather's My Antonia. The novel begins with his journey west to Nebraska. On the same train is an immigrant family, the Shimerdas; there is a teen girl, Antonia, who speaks a little English. The two become friends and sometime playmates despite the age difference. (I believe she is five years older.) But while Jim works on the family farm, Antonia WORKS on farm. After her father dies, she takes to the fields full-time even hiring out to other farms as needed. There is no time for education, no time for fun, no time for anything but surviving. Later, Jim's family moves to town. Antonia comes to town as well as a hired girl. But while the future looks bright and practically limitless to Jim, Antonia's future is less certain. The novel concludes with Jim reconnecting with Antonia several decades later.
My thoughts: I liked it. I'm not sure I loved it though. But it's a solid narrative well worth reading. The novel does a good job in contrasting experiences: new world, old world; men, women; country, town. Jim's relationship with Antonia and the other country 'hired' girls (immigrants all) leave an impact long after he moves away to the big city--New York. Though I'm not sure he truly 'gets' it how lucky he is. Perhaps readers are supposed to feel nothing but pity for Antonia and see her life as a complete waste, see her as a poor, unfortunate soul. I didn't. Antonia may not have left the country; she may still be "trapped" on the farm, trapped in poverty. But she is married to a man she loves; she has children that she loves. Moreover, I get the sense that she is LOVED by her family. Big-city-success is not everything; money isn't everything. Others may see her as a failure, but Antonia herself is content with her lot.
I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins; and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. (19-20)
There was a basic harmony between Antonia and her mistress. They had strong, independent natures, both of them. They knew what they liked, and were not always trying to imitate other people. They loved children and animals and music, and rough play and digging in the earth. They liked to prepare rich, hearty food and to see people eat it; to make up soft white beds and to see youngsters asleep in them. They ridiculed conceited people and were quick to help unfortunate ones. Deep down in each of them there was a kind of hearty joviality, a relish of life, not over-delicate, but very invigorating. I never tried to define it, but I was distinctly conscious of it. (135-6)
When boys and girls are growing up, life can't stand still, not even in the quietest of country towns; and they have to grow up, whether they will or no. That is what their elders are always forgetting. (146)
The idea of you is a part of my mind; you influence my likes and dislikes, all my tastes, hundreds of times when I don't realize it. You really are a part of me. (237)© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews