Blog Post My Antonia

“She threw the package into the stove, but I bit off a corner of one of the chips I held in my hand, and chewed it tentatively. I never forgot the strange taste; though it was many years before I knew that those little brown shavings, which the Shimerdas had brought so far and treasured so jealously, were dried mushrooms. They had been gathered, probably, in some deep Bohemian forest….” (Cather).

page 52- My copy isn’t from the bookstore, but this is the last paragraph before Chapter XI.

There are many instances thoroughout book I where the Shimerdas are jealous of what Jimmy’s grandparents have. The Shimerdas know that life for them in America will be hard, unlike Bohemia. In this instance, however, I felt that it was rude of the grandmother to throw the mushrooms away. Food was scarce; she should have tried harder to refuse the gift than to take it knowing she would simply toss it out.

-Savanna Beach

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9 thoughts on “Blog Post My Antonia

  1. I think that Grandma is tolerant (not necessarily always accepting) of immigrants, but rejected much of their Old World culture. So, her throwing away the mushrooms from Bohemia was, to me, kind of symbolic of the bits of tradition and culture the Shimerda’s brought with them that you see slipping away as the novel progresses.
    And, of course, who wouldn’t be resentful of any gift from a person as insulting and ungrateful at Mrs. Shimerda.
    -Melanie Martin

    • I couldn’t agree more. The Shimerda’s were very giving but Mrs. Shimerda (as the book stated) always expected something in return. Grandma probably doesn’t know much about Bohemian culture. I imagine the Shimerda’s come from a collectivist society where everybody helps everybody. If grandpa wasn’t around to play peacemaker, the Shimerda’s and the Burden’s probably wouldn’t have anything to do with one another after the fight Jake and Ambrosch.
      Erika K.

  2. I definitely agree with Erika about the mushrooms kind of symbolizing the Shimerda’s fading traditions. If I put myself in the Grandmother’s shoes, however, before I even stop to think about what the gift actually was (or what throwing it away would mean), I would probably be hesitant simply based on the fact that it came from the “cave” that the Shimerda family was living in. I think this action is a good example of the differences in quality of life between Jim and Antonia. Jim, on one hand, lived in a moderately decent house on the prairie, while Antonia was (for a while there) literally stuck living in a dirt cave, compared to prairie dogs and owls. Grandma probably wouldn’t have hesitated had she been given a bread mixture that was made in a home like hers, but I think the general lifestyle of the Shimerdas scared her off. I think this sort of shows the struggles that immigrants would have had to put up with when coming to America––they still have all of their values and maybe even some prized possessions (like the mushrooms), but because of the conditions they had to live in, anyone on the outside just viewed things as if they were covered in a layer of dirt. This also speaks to our general tendency of judging things based on their appearance, and not their content.

    -Evan.

  3. It is difficult for someone for our generation to understand the circumstances under which the Burden’s and Shimerda’s lived. We live in a world that shrinks by the day, where the only fronteir left to explore is the one we look up at every night. It is not necessary to rely on our neighbors to get by; we have Walmart. That being said, I feel like this is an important section of the novel, one that speaks to Cather’s attitudes about both the immigrant family and the American Dream they are attempting to live. Hospitality was inherent to prairie life and Mrs. Shimerda was trying to conform, although her gift was worthless to her neighbors. And while it would have been rude of Jim’s grandmother to refuse the gift, the presumptuous attitude of Mrs. Shimerda defeats the purpose of hospitality. For that reason, I cannot blame the old woman for tossing the mushrooms. This passage shows that while the Bohemians are trying to adopt American traditions, and live an American life, they still have a ways to go. Good selection-

    Brenden

  4. I thought it was kind of rude to just toss the mushrooms away like Mrs. Burden did, but that might just be because I would be curious to try them. Maybe that’s just me. I agree with Erika on the issue of the Shimerda’s coming form a collectivist society. They seem to be willing to share with the Burdens…it’s just what they share. And, based on their culture, they expect the Burdens to share with them. I think the whole fued-ish deal comes down to cultural differences. I agree with Brenden when he says that the Shimerda’s still have a ways to go to adopt an American way of life.

  5. From a rather alternative point of view… Could these have been magic mushrooms?
    The reason these mushrooms could have been cherished by the Shimerdas so religiously may have been related to there ability to alter the mind. I am definately reaching a bit, but the Burden’s coming from a deeply protestant backgound would be naive or maybe even frightened by the mushrooms if we suspect the Grandparents of having prior knowledge about these plants. This could explain the immediate disrespectful destruction of the gift.

    ZT

  6. Great stuff here. Brenden invokes the word “hospitality,” which is a major theme in cultural theory: what is genuinely hospitable and what comes with baggage attached? It’s a complex subject, especially as it gets attached to the narrative of the American Dream, which is highly individualistic, preaching “self-reliance” and personal “industry” over cooperative, communal values (read: old world). Yet what’s more American than praire survival (the pilgrim-pioneer notions of community life?) Regarding the mushrooms, I’m going with morels, but certainly appreciate ZT’s “stretch.” One has to imagine what the Vanni’s tent dances would have looked like if ZT is in fact correct and the Shimerda’s “goods” had made the rounds!

  7. ok I would have, without a doubt, thrown the mushrooms out. First, I just don’t like mushrooms, but also she pulled them out of the dirt and knowing the status of much of the Shimerdas’ food I would not have wanted to try them. I don’t think that the throwing out the mushrooms was that big of a deal. Rather I think the acceptance of them was the main point. Mrs. Shimerda wanted to express her gratitude in the the only way she knew how, by giving gifts. To have refused them would have been a great insult. She doesn’t have to know that grandma threw them out. She is appeased by the fact that she was able to give her something.
    ~Christina

  8. I would have given the mushrooms away, but then again I’m not much of a vegetation eater. I did find the giving of the mushrooms interesting; as they said earlier in the text, the Bohemians found a great importance and perhaps a bit of obligation in the giving away of everything. Another thing… Grandmother should have realized the importance of the mushrooms by the careful way in which Mrs. Shimerda scooped them out.

    – Luke

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