Book one of My Antonia

Many times while reading the first book of “My Antonia”, I began to feel the suspense as if a conflict was on the rise only to see the subject dissolve into nothing. Then suddenly, Mr. Shimerda dies. I was shocked. I gasped out loud. I never expected something so major to happen so early in the story to someone who seemed to be an important character. Writers like this make stories so real to readers like me.

-Carolyn Brown

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8 thoughts on “Book one of My Antonia

  1. I too was super surprised when, pretty much out of the blue, Mr. Shimerda was just gone. Cather had spent some time talking about his deteriorating state, but never to the point where I would have guessed he would have killed himself. If anything, I would have put money on something happening to Mrs. Shimerda, the one who was always so embarrassed about her life in America. I was slightly disappointed with the way Cather handled everyone’s reactions to his death, however. I was hoping that there would be a moment where Jim got to experience, first-hand, Antonia’s sorrow, but by the time they finally see each other, it seemed like she had gotten over the shock. I know if someone I depended on killed themselves, I would be an absolute wreck, and probably do something extreme, but Antonia’s reaction is almost too subtle to be convincing. As a plot device though, Mr. Shimerda’s suicide obviously brought a huge shake-up to the roles each family member must play, and now we have Antonia becoming an independent, almost masculine, figure. I’m interested to see if her father’s suicide has any long term effects, other than what I just talked about, or if like so many other instances, it just fades away from the narrative.

  2. Reading a novel like this, I cannot help but feel like we have become spoiled by today’s culture, specifically the movies we pay entirely too much money to see. While some forge their own path, most movies end with the good guy on top and the bad guy in the ground. Most importantly, the main character ALWAYS gets the girl. Therefore, when we read a book like this, we wait for action that never seems to come, for drama that never materializes. Life on the range was marked by a series of routines that did not change, even in light of an apparent suicide. It does not surprise me that Antonia did not mourn her father openly or that she took his place in the field. There was no place for self-pity in an immigrant family struggling to adapt to a new country and a new life. That being said, I’m sure I’m not the only one cheering for a happy ending. And while this does not seem like the kind of book that will end with the gass half full, theres nothing wrong with a little hope…right?

    Brenden

  3. I’m kind of with Brenden on this one. About the whole movie deal…always a Hollywood happy ending. It’s such a staple that when there isn’t a happy ending, it leaves some people cold. I, on the other hand, live for it. I don’t want to come off seeming insensitive (I was sad when Mr. Shimerda died), but something like that needed to happen. Like Carolyn said, Cather seems to be building up the action sometimes to just stop. It made me feel like something big was bound to happen sooner or later and with all the mention of Mr. Shimerda’s deteriorating mental state, I can’t say that it really surprised me. I think it was a necessary plot twist and very true to form. I mean, it can’t all be horses and adventures on the prairie. There are rattlesnakes out there, too.

  4. As far as action getting introduced and then disappearing, it might be better to think about Cather’s narrative less as a coherent “novel” and more as a sequence of “sketches.” Think for a second about your own childhood and you probably have less of a cohesive story and more of a polyglot of glimpses, recollections, and episodes. That’s the effect I think she’s shooting for. And Shimerda’s still around: the “sleeper” passers nod to at the crossroads. But forgetting about these people is actually probably more a reality. The soil of American West has to be populated by thousands of unmarked graves, the slew of “nobodies” faded from history. Think of Jake and Otto and letters “Unclaimed.”

  5. I really liked Antonia’s reaction to her father’s death, especially after reading Book II. In the moment, (as Brenden said) there was no time for grieving- work had to be done. Moreover, Antonia was a child at the time of Mr. Shimerda’s suicide and Cather does a good job demonstrating the childlike tendency to accept life at face value (Antonia doesn’t resist or question her father’s death. She merely thinks of what must be done in light of it). In Book II we see that Mr. Shimerda is not forgotten, that mourning occurs in different ways and at different stages of life:
    “…‘there was something in your speech that made me think so about my papa!’
    ‘I thought about your papa when I wrote my speech, Tony,’ I said. ‘I dedicated it to him.’
    She threw her arms around me, and her dear face was all wet with tears” (p. 126).

  6. I think Brenden makes a good point. We’re waiting for that one big moment of conflict that the whole narrative is hinged upon, but the story reads like life and that is not how life is played out. I thought Antonia’s response was appropriate. Her love for her father was evident but there were also many clues as to what his ending would be. She expresses sorrow and grief, but also a deep desire that he not be forgotten, and multiple times she entreats Jim to not forget him. I love the ending of the section regarding Mr. Shimerdas’ death (at the end of chapter 16.) It’s this beautiful picture of life years after his death. It shows that life goes on after death, the dead are not forgotten, they leave an impact on our lives, but life must go one. And there is a sense of peace when Jim says: “never a tired driver passed the wooden cross, I am sure, without wishing well to the sleeper.”
    ~ Christina

  7. I wasn’t very surprised, simply because something bad was bound to happen. From the way he was acting, walking around so sad all the time, I think it was expected. What confused me was Jim saying it looked like the other guy chopped him with an axe. This makes me wonder what really happened, and since it wont ever be answered, it leaves me irritated with the story.

    -Savanna Beach

  8. I really don’t think Mr. Shimerda killed himself. If anything, his love for his girls was too great to imagine him doing so, and his newfound friendship with Jim’s grand dad was also very satisfying to him. I think he was murdered, probably when he came to roust out the vagabond who had ripped him off on both horses and property.

    – Luke

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