My Antonia Essay, Research Paper
The Households in My Antonia
Cather paints two opposite pictures when describing the Burden household and the Shimerda household. The two households reflect the two central women figures in each setting. The households show the values of the two women by the way the women keep and run the houses.
Jim initially describes the Burden house as pleasant, warm and comforting. While Jim first takes a bath he comments, I sniffed a pleasant smell of gingerbread baking. (954) The comforting smell of food is commonplace in the Burden house, because the family congregates around the kitchen table, which is a focus on community within the house. Our lives centered around warmth and food and the return of men in nightfall, this quote shows that the table is not complete until everyone has arrived. (975) The feeling of togetherness is so strong that Jim felt strange when he was alone, For the first time, I realized I was alone in the house. This quote shows that he never was alone in the house, and only in an emergency he was left alone. The family acts as a unit, which stresses the equality with in the family. In the Burden family, everyone does a part without being asked or forced. Everyone contributes equally. That day when Jim was alone, he did the work because he knew it had to be done. I remembered that in the hurry and excitement of the morning nobody had thought of the chickens. (988) Jim helps with the work because he wants to, not because he is forced. The family is so important to him that it is natural for him to do what needs to be done.
The Burden household reflects the nature of Mrs. Burden. Mrs. Burden is a caring generous person. She often brought the Shimerdas food and gave them a pot for cooking. When Mr. Shimerda died, the Burdens did all they could to help the Shimerdas. They looked at the body, got the coroner and let Ambrosch sleep in their house.
In contrast to the Burden household, the Shimerda household is cold and cave-like. There is no emphasis placed on food and the importance of sitting together at the table. In fact, the Shimerdas ate poorly, at first the family had been living on corncakes and sorghum molasses for three days. (959) As time past, they still did not have enough to eat. Mrs. Shimerda paced all her efforts and attention onto Ambrosch. The family considered him most important because he was strongest and could do the physical work of the farm. The family did not work together as a unit, everyone did what they want and at the same time worked for Ambrosch.
Mrs. Shimerda, like her house, is cold and cruel. She is a selfish woman who manipulates people into giving her what she wants. Jim describes her as, A conceited, boastful old thing, and even misfortune could not humble her. (983) No matter what the Burdens give her, she wants more. She puts down what she is given hoping she will then receive something better. When Mr. Shimerda dies, she allows Ambrosch to take over the house. Ambrosch forces the girls to work, and Mrs. Shimerda is happy because with the girls working, their farm will be prosperous. She does not care about the health and reputation of the girls.
The women s families turn out very different with very different values. This is because of the environment in which they lived. Although Antonia grew up in such a harsh and sad environment, she grew up to be a respectable mother and good wife. Her characteristics are closer to Mrs. Burden s than her own mother s characteristics. The warm environment of the Burdens is a place Antonia longed to be, and now as an adult, she has it.