Many of the characters in My Ántonia are immigrants who have come to the American West from their home countries to make a living farming. They come from several different counties, including Bohemia (a region in what is today the Czech Republic), Russia, and Austria. The characters have different reasons for immigrating; some had to flee their native counties, others hoped to make a better life for themselves in America. Their attitude toward America is largely hopeful, though many of the immigrants express nostalgic longings for their homeland.
The novel explores the social, linguistic, and economic barriers these immigrants face as they try to settle in a new place. They are often treated as outsiders by the Americans because they have different values, speak differently, have different religious beliefs, and are in a different socio-economic bracket. Cather's attitude toward these immigrants can best be described as admiration. She notes the spirit, will power, and determination that these immigrants bring with them, and recognizes that it is precisely these traits which allow the immigrants to succeed, often more so than native-born Americans in the same situation.
Questions About Foreignness and 'The Other'
What is the toughest challenge the immigrants in this novel face?
What abilities or virtues do the immigrants have that the Americans do not?
How does Ántonia's ethnicity affect her relationship with Jim?
Are most of the immigrants happy or regretful that they've come to America?
What are the similarities and differences between the way in which immigrants are viewed in this novel and how immigrants to the U.S. are viewed today?
Chew on This
Economic barriers are more challenging than social barriers for the immigrants in this novel.
Social barriers are more challenging than economic barriers for the immigrants in this novel.