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My Antonia

O, Pioneers

novel life jim despite

a novel by Willa Cather, published in 1918. It is the author's most popular novel, which has been studied by generations of young Americans for its lyrical appreciation of pioneer life. The novel is related by Jim Burden, who looks back on his early years in Nebraska, seeing Antonia Shimerda as a symbol of them and what was significant about them. Antonia's father was tricked into buying poor land which, dreamy and devoted to music as he is, he cannot work. Despite the help he receives from Jim's family he gives in to despair, eventually committing suicide. Antonia, herself only an adolescent, finds work as a domestic help, yet retains her dignity in the face of this and other assaults on her pride. Jim, who ends up going to college and later to Harvard, hears of her subsequent elopement with a man who deserts her and their child and of her eventual return, in disgrace, to work on her brother's farm. But, in spite of these setbacks, it is a fulfilled married woman he meets twenty years on, who embodies the strongest and most life-enhancing virtues of her ‘race’. The novel is in the pastoral mode of O, Pioneers (1913) but its art is more refined; indeed, despite the robustness of its characters and the life they lead, the book is characterized by a singular delicacy.

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