04-24-2007 05:25 PM - edited 04-24-2007 05:25 PM
First published in 1918, this novel is more than a historical narrative about immigrants settling the Great Plains region of the United States. While this story line provides the basic plot, and the characters’ lives win our admiration, Cather used the region of her childhood more ambitiously: to develop a story about personal and national identity; to explore the possibilities of a female hero in an epic tale, complete with villains and moral lessons; and to generate enduring discussion of what it means to love and live in a world that is constantly changing and developing, one where some thrive while others barely survive.
Cather’s intention in writing about the Shimerdas, as well as other families settling the region of the Great Plains called The Divide, was never just to offer a simple chronicle. Her narrative deals with universal, humanistic issues that would resonate with generations of readers long after the pioneers and their experience had passed into the pages of history.
In My Ántonia, Cather emphasizes the role the land plays in the lives of her characters, but also raises the portrayal of rural landscape into the realm of the symbolic, adding layers to a story which trades as much in the personal -- unrequited love and unfulfilled desire are a major motif in this novel -- as in the grandly historic. And, as Gordon Tapper points out in his Introduction to the book, Cather’s depiction of the “unassimilated immigrant household” (p. xix) in the novel is tied to her personal ideas about the way a new American identity was developing on the frontier, different from that of the established East Coast or from that of the war-torn South following the Civil War. These concerns intersect with the well-known myths of the American frontier -- myths which, in this complex work of fiction, the author both responded to and helped to shape.
About Willa Cather
Wilella Sibert Cather was born on December 7, 1873, in the small Virginia farming community of Winchester. When she was ten years old, her parents moved the family to the prairies of Nebraska, where her father opened a farm mortgage and insurance business. Homeschooled before enrolling in the local high school, Cather had a mind of her own, changing her given name to Willa and adopting a variation of her grandmother’s maiden name, Seibert, as her middle name.
During Cather’s studies at the University of Nebraska, she worked as a drama critic to support herself and published her first piece of short fiction, "Peter," in a Boston magazine. After graduation, her love of music and intellectual pursuits inspired her to move to Pittsburgh, where she edited the family magazine Home Monthly, wrote theater criticism for the Pittsburgh Daily Leader, and taught English and Latin in local high schools. Cather’s big break came with the publication of her first short story collection, The Troll Garden (1905). The following year she moved to New York City to work for McClure’s Magazine as a writer and eventually the magazine’s managing editor.
Considered one of the great figures of early-20th-century American literature, Willa Cather derived much of her inspiration from the American Midwest, which she considered her home. Never married, she cherished her many friendships, some of which she had maintained since childhood. Her intimate coterie of women writers and artists motivated Cather to produce some of her best work. Sarah Orne Jewett, a successful author from Maine whom Cather had met during her McClure’s years, inspired her to devote herself full-time to creating literature and to write about her childhood, which she did in several novels of the prairies. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for her novel about World War I, called One of Ours.
She won many other awards, including a gold medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Prix Femina Americaine. On April 24, 1947, two years after publishing her last novel, Willa Cather died in New York City of a cerebral hemorrhage. Among Cather’s other accomplishments were honorary doctoral degrees from Columbia, Princeton, and Yale universities.
Learn more about Willa Cather in Meet the Writers.
Message Edited by Bill_T on 04-24-2007 05:29 PM