by Willa Cather
Grade: C - 14 and up
There could be no better arguement for writing what you know than Willa Cather's My Antoinia. A casual traveler, or researcher could never evoke such powerful imagery of place, people and time. Cathers passion for and love of the wild and hard country that she was transported to at an early age stands off of the pages with bracingly strong imagery. Her representation of the strong and determined imigrants who fought, through much hardship, to subdue the prairie, is beyond realistic. These were the people she knew and admired. And yet she paints them with all of their faults fully in view. One of the powers of her works is that you cannot find yourself saying, "How could someone do something like that?" Because you know. She is able to show human nature so well, but with a kindness and understanding which exonerates in many cases, or at least shows pity.
This book is the most autobiographic of Cather's works. She had many of the same experiences as her male narator, Jim. She too came from Virginia to Nebraska as a child to live with her grandparents, she too went to school in Lincoln, and ended up far from her prairie home. It is hard for me to separate Jim and Willa, and I don't think that it is really possible to. Jim is the key through which she was able to return to her past without actually writing a memoir.
Even the main character and focus of the book, Antonia, was based on a friend from Willa's life. To have such a strong, spirited, definate person in a work of literature, I think that they almost have to be based off of a person, or people. It is hard to believe that someone could live as fully on the pages of a book who had not lived in real life. Antonia is a delightfully vibrant child, life deals harshly with her again and again, starting with the death of her father when she is a child. Though changed, and hardened on the outside to do what it takes, her heart is never hardened, and her spirit never quelled. There are those in the story who lament the loss of what she could have been, that her potential was short changed because of the events of her life. The last paragraph in the book even says, "this had been the road of destiny; had taken us to those early accidents of fortune which predetermined for us all that we can ever be." Which the author must believe to be true. And yet the picture that is painted of Antonia at the end of the book - her many children, her farm, her worn and battered frame - show us that Antonia has just the life she has desired, and even if life took her down a different path than those she could have had, in the end she is what she is meant to be. "She is a rich mine of life, like the founders of the early races."(p.194)
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
by Willa Cather