|Willa Cather (NYPL)|
In the 1918 novel My Ántonia, Willa Cather offered an unusual portrait of the American experience. Cather’s method was to present a central female character through the eyes of a male narrator. The narrator, Jim Burden, is a Harvard-educated lawyer in New York for “one of the great Western railways.” Ántonia Shimerda is a friend from his childhood in Nebraska during the waning days of the frontier. Jim tells the story of how Ántonia, the daughter of poor Bohemian homesteaders, survives the suicide of her father and the disgrace of being an unwed mother to build a life on the land and thus bear out the “pioneer ideal.” Despite their disparate social statuses and divergent life paths, Jim sees Ántonia as the utmost symbol of “the country” and “conditions” of his youth.Update: The SSRN post of the article is here.