Term Paper: Immigration in My Antonia

Pages: 7 (2202 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] 'They can't any of them speak English, except one little girl, and all she can say is "We go Black Hawk, Nebraska." She's not much older than you, twelve or thirteen, maybe, and she's as bright as a new dollar."

This was the case with most immigrants who came to the U.S. They were a vibrant lot and were certainly fearless and courageous. They barely knew English that added to their problems in the foreign land yet like Antonia, they were determined to succeed. They absorbed the beauty of the new land and contributed to its success and progress. But all was not always good for immigrants and some suffered more than others (7). Writing about one of their neighbors, Burden relates their disappointment and disillusionment about the great American dream. "They went away to strange towns, but when people learned where they came from, they were always asked if they knew the two men who had fed the bride to the wolves. Wherever they went, the story followed them. It took them five years to save money enough to come to America. They worked in Chicago, Des Moines, Fort Wayne, but they were always unfortunate. When Pavel's health grew so bad, they decided to try farming. (60)

Despite author's best intentions to focus on the positive side of immigrant experience, she couldn't help infusing some dark and brutal realities that made life difficult for the immigrants. Those dark things were the actual reality of life as Jim observed:

The pale, cold light of the winter sunset did not beautify-- it was like the light of truth itself... [as if to say]: "This is reality, whether you like it or not. All those frivolities of summer, the light and shadow, the living mask of green that trembled over everything, they were lies, and this is what was underneath. This is the truth." (85)

The railroad development also represented something important from the viewpoint of immigrants. The immigrants were scared of the new development since that meant becoming a victim to rising capitalism (6). Immigrants were already suffering from numerous problems and they were not ready for the railroads since that could expose their social and economic frailties. The author explains that in the U.S., immigrants could gain success and climb the social ladder if they strengthened their economic position and railroad could expose them to further economic difficulties.

Thus the author reveals many different aspects of immigrant experience in the U.S. It focuses on the positive while capturing the negative and the dark. The critics believe My Antonia shows how a new land erodes old identities when old values clash with new ones. It also talks about American imperialism and its effects on the new immigrant population (8). My Antonia is also about disintegration of an utopian land that immigrants had in their minds when they came to the U.S. (10). In short, My Antonia is a more real immigrant novel than many others that came out in the same period. This is because it captures both the positive and negative sides thus making the whole experience more real and relatable.


Mildred R. Bennett, The World of Willa Cather. University of Nebraska Press. Lincoln, NE. 1961.

Henry Blackman Sell Willa Cather, To Our Notion the Foremost American Woman Novelist Chicago Daily News, 12 March 1919.

L. Brent Bohlke, Willa Cather in Person: Interviews, Speeches, and Letters. University of Nebraska Press. Lincoln, NE. 1986.

Annette Kolodny, "Letting Go Our Grand Obsessions: Notes Toward a New Literary History of the American Frontier," in Subjects and Nations: Nation, Race, and Gender from Oronooko to Anita Hill, ed. Michael Moon (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1995)

Iain Chambers, Migrancy, Culture, Identity (New York: Routledge, 1995)

Robert Louis Stevenson, From Scotland to Silverado (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1966)

Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: Univ. Of California Press, 1984)

Mike Fischer, "Pastoralism and its Discontents: Willa Cather and the Burden of Imperialism," Mosaic 23 (Winter 1990),

Joseph Urgo, Willa Cather and the Myth of American Migration (Urbana:… [END OF PREVIEW]

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