The Trials and Tribulations of Ántonia
Why do many immigrants make the long and usually costly move to America? Is it the largely idolized notion that Americans are wealthier with better opportunities? Moreover, is the price some pay worth the risk? In Willa Cather’s My Ántonia, Ántonia faces struggles as a young child, including language barriers, poverty, harsh living conditions, and her beloved father’s death. However, as Ántonia grows into a woman, she must face struggles of a social nature, such as the division of social and economic classes, as well as social opprobrium. While immigration to America may open many doors for immigrants, it is equally fraught with obstacles. Likewise, Ántonia must face many adversities after her emigration from Bohemia to Nebraska, which make her a stronger person.
My Ántonia is a novel that captures the struggles of early European immigrants and settlers. Antonia, a young Bohemian immigrant, moves to Nebraska with her family in search for better opportunities. Mrs. Shimerda moves her family, against her husbands will, as she believes there is more land and money for her sons and better husbands for her girls (Cather 96). It is here she meets Jim Burden, a neighboring orphan who arrives on the same train as she. Antonia and Jim quickly form a strong bond and become best friends. However, as they get older, their lives take different paths that cause them to drift apart. While Jim goes to school, he furthers his education and becomes a lawyer; Antonia must stay behind and work to help support her family. Before long, Antonia falls in love with a man who abandons her unwed and pregnant. Consequently, the town turns its back on her, and she must return to her family’s farm to work. Eventually, however, Antonia marries a Bohemian man and has eleven or twelve kids. She lives a happy and fulfilled life with her family. It is at this time, twenty years later, that Jim and Antonia meet again, and although she is battered, he can still see the same eager, optimistic, and friendly girl he knew as a child, only now as a woman. Jim also sees a pioneer woman who has overcome the many struggles inherent to adapting to the frontier, and yet she still encompasses the Bohemian traditions she learned as a child.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty for immigrants adapting to life in a new country is the language barrier. Upon their arrival, the Shimerdas only speak a few sentences of broken English. According to Jim, “They could not speak enough English to ask for advice, or even to make their most pressing wants known” (Cather 46). In the beginning of their friendship, Antonia is unable to communicate efficiently with Jim. For example, during one of Antonia and Jim’s adventures, they come across a snake that sneaks up behind Jim. Antonia, who only speaks little English, is only able to scream at Jim in Bohemian. Although Jim is able to kill the snake, he lashes out at Antonia for speaking Bohemian gibberish. While this...