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Westward Expansion And Rebirth Concept In My Antonia

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‘My Antonia’ by Willa Cather is a novel that has been enjoyed many people throughout the century. This wonderful novel centers around a man by the name of Jim Burden and his point of view of a Bohemian woman with the name of Antonia Shimerda during the time of westward expansion in the late nineteenth century. Antonia was one of Jim’s best friends when they first got to Blackhawk, Nebraska. Jim and his grandparents help Antonia’s family during some tough times when they first got to the United States from Bohemia. Throughout their time Jim moved into town after his grandparents got rid of their farm and they were still able to stay in touch for the most part.

Eventually, they kind of lost touch throughout the years, but were eventually able to reconnect later on in life. This story is incredible and remains timeless after close to a century sense it has been written. This novel has points that resonate with people in the modern era. It remains timeless due to its ability to show rebirth and the way it breaks gender norms. A concept that is in ‘My Antonia’ that makes this novel so timeless is the concept rebirth. The story takes place during the time of westward expansion. The story is about people that have moved westward in the hopes of a better life than the ones they had prior. Both Antonia Shimerda and Jim Burden were part of this expansion. Jim Burden had moved in with his grandparents after both of his parents had passed away. Antonia moved westward with the rest of her family from Bohemia. The purpose of her family moving westward was for her brothers, sister and herself. “He not want to come…much money, much land for my boys, much husbands for my girls.” Said by Antonia referring to her father on page fifty-one. Mr. Shimerda didn’t want to leave Bohemia, but he wanted to do what was best for his kids. So, he made the choice to start all over to do that. This is rebirth and this is something that remains timeless because every person in the world at some point has to start over. It could be a new job, new city or completely new life like shown in ‘My Antonia’. This is something that will remain timeless because no matter what everyone at some point will have to start over from nothing.

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The character which the ‘My Antonia’ centers around, Antonia breaks the traditional gender norms. The biggest example of seeing this is after the harsh winter. During the winter Antonia’s family struggled hard. The Shimerdas didn’t have time to set up the farm prior to winter. This meant they didn’t have means to make much money or the means for to get food other than hunting. The language barrier between the Shimerdas and the rest of the people surround Blackhawk, Nebraska lead to some pretty severe depression with the Shimerdas. Mr. Shimerda was the most depressed. That depression lead to Mr. Shimerda taking his own life. This left a huge impact on Antonia’s life and most likely changed her forever. So, after all that had happened her family set up the farm. Antonia was at the age where she could to manual labor on the farm. This made her a tomboy. She was always trying to outwork everyone no matter the gender. She states when talking to Jim about much his grandparent’s farmhand, Jake. “Jim, you ask Jake how much he ploughed today. I don’t want Jake get more done in one than me.” (pg 66). In a time where men were still considered the superior gender. It is remarkable to read those words. Antonia didn’t care that she was losing her feminine qualities she wanted to work harder than the men out there doing this same work. Near the end of book one she bluntly said that she “enjoyed being like a man” (Pg 74) and “she didn’t like working indoors she wanted to be outside” (pg 74). The three quotes used all shows that she had developed some distain over the concept of being a traditional housewife.

The traditional housewife being someone who stays at home cooks and cleans while the men bring home the money. Antonia wanted to be able to bring home some of the money. She wanted to work hard and not stay at home taking care of the house. She was breaking the traditional gender roles of the time by wanting something completely different for herself than what was traditionally expected from her. This trait is timeless due that its still relatable in the current decade. A lot of women do not mind losing their feminine qualities during the process of working hard. Its okay for a women to not be a traditional housewife. Lena Lingard is also another person in ‘My Antonia’ that showed qualities of breaking traditional gender norms. Lena Lingard is a female character who started off as someone working on a farm with her family like Antonia near Blackhawk, Nebraska. She was known for being a little scandalous while she was working on the farm. She was recruited to be a dressmaker shortly after Antonia was recruited by the Harling family to help them. Lena had Lena was unique in the aspect that she wanted to run her own business and didn’t want to get married to a man as stated on page 148 “I am not going to marry anybody.”

At the time that ‘My Antonia’ was written this was not normal. It was expected that a woman gets married and have kids. It was still pretty rare for women to run their own business at this time too. So, when those two details were combined together, she was breaking two very big gender norms for the time the story was written. Men and Women today still make the choice to not get married and people constantly question that decision. Marriage is still a norm for both genders and this concept is something that helps this piece of literature remain timeless. ‘My Antonia’ is phenomenal novel that people in this modern time can still relate to. Its incredible to read and see how this book has helped shaped the United states as is. Antonia and her family showed rebirth when they went to Nebraska. Antonia and Lena are incredible characters. They broke down barriers defying gender norms. These are some of the many reasons why ‘My Antonia’ remains so timeless.

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Westward Expansion And Rebirth Concept In My Antonia. (2021, September 30). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from
“Westward Expansion And Rebirth Concept In My Antonia.” Edubirdie, 30 Sept. 2021,
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Westward Expansion And Rebirth Concept In My Antonia [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 30 [cited 2023 Feb 3]. Available from:
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