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Literary Analysis

Krista (RiverBend) Originally published May 2004

One of the main themes of the book “My Antonia” deals with the relationship between the friendships and events of our childhood and who we become later in life. This is reflected in the style of the book.

In the novel’s original introduction we meet the protagonist Jim Burden as he travels with a friend. Their talk turns to the extraordinary friendship between Jim and an immigrant woman he grew up with in Nebraska. Right from the start, the reader is introduced to how important and influential Jim’s relationship with Antonia Shimerda has been in shaping his life. Jim admits he has spent a lot of time throughout his life thinking about his childhood with Antonia. He and his companion plan to write down all they can remember about her and when they meet again in New York, Jim presents his friend with the novel “My Antonia”. It is his account of his relationship with Antonia spanning thirty years, from the moment they met to the recent renewal of their friendship.

The novel opens with the orphaned Jim traveling on the same train, to the same place, on the same night as Antonia. Right from the start, their stories intertwine. The book progresses through the years, recounting the story of Antonia in reference to Jim’s life and his memories of her. We hear about the central character of the novel only through the memories and stories of the people around her. Actually, as the novel evolves, we hear less of Antonia and more of Jim, though in the most unexpected moments, she pops up in his narrative and we know she is never far from his thoughts.

Another important theme of the novel is that of the immigrant experience, especially how it affects women. Jim peppers his story of his and Antonia’s life with those of other immigrant women he grew up with. It becomes obvious to the reader how much Jim admires and sympathizes with immigrant women. Perhaps this is because he too migrated to Nebraska, albeit from another state, leaving behind family and friends to live among unknown people in a completely new climate and culture.

The style of the novel also reflects this theme. It begins with Jim and Antonia’s arrival in Nebraska and spans to the conclusion of the immigrant experience. It documents how all the immigrant women and men Jim mentions fail or flourish in the new land, the hardships endured and overcome, the eventual contentment and stability most enjoy, Antonia in particular.

The book records the trials Antonia endures early on (her father’s suicide) and later in life (how she fell in love with a man who left her penniless and pregnant). Through each of the many hardships Antonia encounters, she maintains her buoyant spirits, quiet strength, sincerity, and an admirable fire for life. The book ends with Jim’s recent visit to her home and his testimony to the endurance and vitality she retains, even in her forties. She has finally found her place and home in Nebraska, happily married to a Bohemian like herself, surrounded by numerous healthy children, and proprietor of a productive farm. Jim’s account of Antonia’s life exudes his love and admiration for her.

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