My Antonia Essay: The Spirit of Antonia

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The Spirit of Antonia in My Antonia

The life of Antonia Shimerdas, the main character in Willa Cather's My Antonia, could easily be judged a failure. Perhaps measures of wealth, career, beauty and love fall short when held next to Antonia. If one could categorize life by that unnamable light or spirit which Antonia never loses, she would surpass all who belittle her achievements in other areas.

Where the spirit comes from, no one can say. “Perhaps an ethereal or god-like being takes residence in the person's heart”(Helmick 46). Some may say it's simply the chemistry of human beings to vary in levels of energy, which manifests itself as vigor and enthusiasm for living. “But even one who attributes the undying light to
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But unlike Jim and the neighbors who look disapprovingly at tasks which Antonia performs for the livelihood of her family, Antonia, with a daring abandonment of social uprightness, takes to her new chores with the same ardor she's always possessed. Unlike most women of her time, Antonia feels what it is to push her body and feel pride in "how much she could lift and endure" (Cather 121). While other young girls of her age hide from the rays of the sun, Antonia reflects them as she returns home from her work, "shouting to her beasts, sunburned, sweaty, her dress open at the neck, and her throat and chest dust-plastered" (Cather 121).

With an inner and outer strength, Antonia thrashes the fields of Red Cloud, Nebraska, leaving her mark not only on the land, but also on all who meet her. From a detached and unfamilar perspective, however, this life seems to only have detrimental effects on Antonia's character. When the Harlings, a family in town, take on Antonia as help, they hope "the girl will be happy here, and she'll forget those things" (Cather 149). While they succeed in taming Antonia in the kitchen, they cannot bridle the spirit which leads her to the town dance pavilion every week. In this rhythmic environment, the able muscles in Antonia's body outshine those of the affluent town girls, who had
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