Willa Cather is an American writer. She started her literary career by writing short-stories, but later started to write novels – her main genre. She expresses mood and ideology of middle-class American farmers and that’s why she doesn’t like the image of modern capitalistic America. Cather is against capitalism with its exploitation of ordinary people, but she doesn’t express great protest to such a system – her way of writing is more dramatic, than based on some action; she remains only objective observer. Industrial city doesn’t interest her and she is quite conservative.
Cather opposes ‘dying’ patriarchal way of life in the village to capitalism and modern reality; she opposes people with creative thinking to businessmen. Her main themes for creative works are taken from life of pioneers-farmers in the West, the first people, who moved from Europe and Eastern states and from life of artists, musicians and other creative and gifted people.
I think that strength of Cather’s novels is in depiction of characters; the plot of her novels is quite simple. Heroes of Cather are trying to realize all their abilities and skills. No wonder that novel “My Antonia” touches with its simplicity and brightness of characters. I will not speak about summary – you can read the novel and you’ll not regret – it is really interesting and exciting drama, but I’ll try to discuss about themes of changes and stasis in this novel.
As for me, Cather’s realism is often combined with romanticism. “My Antonia” is not an exception. Life of Antonia is constant chain of changes: she is like lightning – bright, quick and rapidly changing girl, who has her own opinion for everything she hears or sees. Even when she didn’t know English language yet (let’s remember that her family moved to the United States from Czech Republic) she had her own way of thinking and wasn’t afraid to show it.
The girl lives as a nature prompts to her, by instinct. Her own world is a world of vivid and naïve natures, but not a world of dissolute society. She is a strong girl and when her father dies and she has to spend all the day long in the farm working hard, she changes from a small girl into a grown-up woman, which is strong enough to overcome any difficulties the life presents.
Jim Burden, being a boy, has very good heart and is an open-hearted person. Still, he is not so naïve, like Antonia and her family – those two cultures are a bit different. Antonia’s family doesn’t hesitate to share everything they have (let’s remember episode, when the family is hungry, and Antonia’s mother gives to Jim’s mother the mushrooms, they gathered still in Czech and were keeping for a long time).
Jim’s family is more practical. I should say it is more conforming. It lives in accordance with rules, which are last and all the time established in the society they belong. A kind of stasis – without any changes. When Jim is a boy, he can do almost whatever he wants, but when he becomes a grown-up, he has to listen to society he belongs. And he obeys, because he doesn’t have strength enough to move against the current.
Antonia creates her life as she wants, even when she falls on evil days and experiences misfortune, almost all she makes is by her own will. She doesn’t want to obey the society and rules, which determine behavior – she changes her life in her own way. Jim, on the contrary, lives as it “should be” – he chooses a career and enters a college, He doesn’t like the company of young people and dedicates his time to college and university. Jim conforms expectations of his family, receiving education and finally, marrying successfully. Although he wasn’t lucky in that marriage, for the other people he was quite successful in his life. He became a lawyer and even knowledge of prairies helped him in his work.
The stasis is also seen in society of those times. Hard conditions of life, constant work in the farm, all this influenced Antonia greatly. She wanted to go to the school, but instead of that she had to work hard in order to supply her family with food for a long winter period not to die from hunger. When Jim comes to Antonia, asking whether she will go to school, Antonia says that she is already a grown-up and she doesn’t have time for such stupid childish stuff. But her words are only words – being a clever and curios girl she hates working hard – she wants to learn new things. It seems to her that she is dying in that farm or she is dead alive. Antonia wants to change everything.
When Antonia started work as a hired girl in Harling’s family, she found the model of life for her in Mrs. Hurling. Actually, they had much in common: both of them were strong and independent natures, both of them knew what do they like and didn’t try to look like somebody else. They never imitated somebody’s actions or had the same opinion as majority. They were different from ordinary people, who lived in society stasis. They laughed at haughty people and helped to unlucky. Both of them had in the heart never-ending quantity of joy and good mood, which made other people to feel the same.
In spite all the difficulties in her life, Antonia doesn’t want to change her life by loosing freedom. Freedom and constant ability to change by her will are the main character features of this girl. She loves dancing, and soon she becomes very popular. Members of Hartling family don’t like her hobby and asking her to refuse form dancing, because it can spoil her reputation. Still, Antonia doesn’t want to leave dancing, although she has to stop working for Hartling’s. She refuses to sacrifice her independence. From the very beginning of her life till the end she leaves self-sufficient person.
This novel shows us contradictions in society of those times there are rules, according to which society lives, and you should obey the rules. Limitations of social mobility, for example in differences between city girls and so-called “hired girls” are clearly seen. For example, a girl, who lives in the city has her own “life-program”, which is stipulated by society and is determined by her family: she has to get education (optionally) and to become a wife and a mother. That’s all.
The girls, which come to the city from the villages, have much more opportunities in the life, – they have freedom and choice – they have possibility for changes. They don’t experience the stasis in society. Those girls are able to get rid of those traditional constraints, existing between man and woman in society, but they can loose social privileges. City girls also are able to choose, but they don’t want to loose respectability and social standing. Actually, all this forms theme of change and stasis in the novel of Cather “My Antonia”.
1. “My Antonia” by Willa Sibert Cather (1918) [online] http://www.americanliterature.com/MA/MAINDEX.HTML
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