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Remembering Ántonia, by Tara Lynn Marta

Remembering Ántonia, by Tara Lynn Marta

I first encountered My Ántonia as a television movie. Fresh out of high school, I’d never heard of Willa Cather, as her books never made the required reading lists. The movie, however, immediately captivated my attention. The narrative of Jim and Ántonia enthralled me, yet I had no idea why. After all, I didn’t relate to the characters. I was not an immigrant and I did not live on a prairie.

Years later at a local book sale, I encountered the novel My Ántonia and decided to purchase it. I finished the book in less than a week, becoming enveloped in the essence of its universal themes. Suddenly, I began to understand Cather’s message about the difficulties immigrants face on new land while being discriminated against for their otherness. Cather could have well written the book in the twenty-first century and it would have maintained its relevance.

Cather’s decision to ignore gender-stereotypical roles of men and women only heightened my appreciation for this novel. The portrayal of Jim as the weaker sex while Ántonia displays strength and fortitude must have been a risky move on the author’s part. Though I’d read that Cather did not openly declare herself a feminist, she obviously felt compelled to proclaim to the world that women were not defined by convention. This becomes clear when Ántonia steps into her father’s role after his suicide. She becomes a source of great strength by ploughing fields and adjusting to a new life, something her father could not do. Ántonia also seems at peace with herself, whereas Jim becomes a product of the new life he is living and retreats to thoughts of the past.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the novel deals with the past. It takes Jim twenty years before he’s able to face Ántonia again, something he attributes to life’s intervention. When the two finally reunite, Antonia is not quite as Jim envisioned her, time having altered her physicality. But in her place, the real Ántonia is full of fire and vigor. Throughout her life, Ántonia faced myriad adversities; rather than succumb, she overcame. Jim finally realizes that Ántonia has never been a victim of life’s circumstances. She remains steadfast, holding dear to the past, yet embracing the future. Jim learns what Ántonia—and Willa Cather—knew all along, that the past can transform us without defeating us.

Although Cather had difficulty adjusting to life on the prairie, even once remarking that she feared dying in a cornfield, her novel reflects the unwavering impression her Nebraska past had on her life. Willa Cather knew something about nostalgia, no matter how much she tried to distance herself from it. And readers have been all the better for it.

Author Bio

Tara Lynn Marta is a fiction and nonfiction writer who has been published by Aaduna Inc., Adelaide Literary Magazine, the I AM STRENGTH anthology, and others. She holds a B.A. in English from Pennsylvania State University and an M.A. in Creative Writing from Wilkes University and lives in Scranton, Pennsylvania.