Notes on Characters from My Antonia

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My Antonia Major Characters

Jim Burden: The narrator of the novel. He and Antonia are childhood friends. After Jim leaves Black Hawk to attend college in Lincoln, and later Boston, he loses contact with Antonia. Jim starts a relationship with Lena (another girl from his childhood) in Lincoln, but leaves for Boston to pursue his studies at Harvard, knowing that Lena distracts him from his academic life. Jim returns one summer and hears news of Antonia. Initially, he is disappointed in her for getting jilted by her fiance and having her baby out of wedlock. He pays her a long-overdue visit and they reminisce about their childhood days together. Twenty years pass before Jim visits her again. Antonia lives a happy life with a large brood of ten or eleven children, a loving husband, and a large farm. Jim ends up in a loveless, passionless marriage with no children and a job in law. The novel begins with Jim's story of his adolescence.

Antonia Shimerda: The immigrant Bohemian girl who comes to America with her family. Despite the many hardships she must face, Antonia remains dedicated to her family and to improving their life. She is trusting and fiercely loyal to her family and friends. She knows what she wants in life and is determined to reach her goals of success. Antonia's greatest loss is the death of her father, Mr. Shimerda. She knows she will never forget all that he has taught her about him and the traditions of their native Bohemia. When Antonia arrives in town to work for the Harlings, she and the Harlings have a major dispute over her promiscuous dancing. Mr. Harling forbids Antonia to attend the dances, and threatens to fire her. Antonia immediately chooses freedom over employment and quits. The attempted rape of Antonia by Wick Cutter leads to the estrangement of Jim and Antonia's friendship. Later, Antonia, now pregnant, is deserted at the altar by her fiance, Larry Donovan. Bearing a child out of wedlock and raising it alone is shameful iaccording to Black Hawk standards, but Antonia is able to rise above the humiliation. She meets and marries Anton Cuzak. She and Cuzak have ten or eleven children together, and own a large farm. Antonia rules the household with a gentle, loving hand. She loves her life on the country and is dedicated to the land.

Mrs. Burden: Jim's paternal grandmother, who Jim describes as a woman of energy and liveliness. She is very kind to the Shimerdas when they first arrive and she is the one who convinces Mrs. Harling to hire Antonia, in an effort to get her away from heavy farm work. Later, Mrs. Burden is disappointed in Jim when she learns that he has sneaked out of the house to attend dances.

Mr. Burden: Jim's paternal grandfather, who is dignified and quiet. He is strong and respected; even Mrs. Shimerda and Ambrosch agree to his peaceful terms when Jake gets into a fight with Ambrosch. Mr. Burden is made a deacon of the Black Hawk church when the Burdens move to town.

Mrs. Shimerda: The nosy, complaining, and rude mother of Ambrosch, Antonia, Yulka, and Marek and wife of Mr. Shimerda. It is Mrs. Shimerda who makes her family move to America to give Ambrosch the chance to become a wealthy farmer.

Ambrosch Shimerda: The Shimerdas' eldest son. He is exactly like his mother, boastful and indifferent. Despite his stiff and cruel exterior, Ambrosch does have a kind heart, especially when his family is concerned. When Antonia goes to marry Donovan, Ambrosch gives her the money he had been saving for her.

Mr. Shimerda: The father of Ambrosch, Antonia, Yulka, and Marek, and wife of Mrs. Shimerda. He is a genteel, intelligent man, who loved his life in Bohemia and is heartbroken and heartsick with his new life in America. He can never adjust to the hard life on the farm; from the first time Jim meets Mr. Shimerda, he sees the sadness and exhaustion in Mr. Shimerda's face. Mr. Shimerda feels alone in the world, despite his love for his daughter, Antonia. He especially finds content and happiness in the Burdens' kitchen during Christmas. Mr. Shimerda finally shoots himself because he cannot be happy in his new world. After his death, Jim finds himself thinking about how disappointed and ashamed Mr. Shimerda would be if he were to see Antonia losing the genteel ways he has taught her. His grave lies between the intersection of two roads.

Russian Peter: Mr. Shimerda's friends. Peter and Pavel are Russian, and Mr. Shimerda talks with them about their countries. Peter is a jolly man, ready to entertain Antonia and Jim, and very caring toward his friends and cow.

Russian Pavel: Pavel is a thin, frail man, the opposite of Peter. He is skeptical of people and quick to suspect others. Pavel has severe coughs and nightmares of the incident that forced him and Peter out of Russia. Pavel's death saddens Mr. Shimerda greatly.

Wick Cutter: The shady and evil Black Hawk money-lender. Russian Peter owes him and has to sell his beloved cow and home to pay Cutter off. Later, Antonia goes to work for the Cutters when she leaves the Harlings'. Cutter plans to rape Antonia, but finds Jim in her place instead. Cutter shoots his wife and then himself.

Widow Steavens: The elderly and kind woman who rents the Burdens' farm when they move to Black Hawk. She tells Jim the story of Antonia's jilted marriage and the birth of her baby.

Mrs. Harling: The mother of the family who are the Burdens' neighbors in Black Hawk. Jim describes Mrs. Harling as a warm, giving, happy woman, who truly dotes on her family and friends. She expects those she cares about to trust her judgement and not to disappoint her. Jim sees many similar qualities between Mrs. Harling and Antonia. Mrs. Harling is upset and disappointed when Antonia leaves the Harlings'. Later, she and Antonia reconcile.

Nina Harling: The youngest Harling child. Antonia loves Nina so much, that she later names one of her daughters after her. Nina brings her mother and Antonia back together after their dispute over Antonia's dancing. She is known for her big eyes.

Mr. Harling: The domineering and controlling father of Frances, Charley, Julia, Sally, and Nina, and husband to Mrs. Harling. He is the one to give Antonia the ultimatum - either to stop going to the dances or leave the Harlings'.

Lena Lingard: The Norwegian immigrant girl who has grown up in the country with Jim and Antonia. As another hired girl, she comes to Black Hawk as well, to earn money working for the local dressmaker. Lena is a sexual figure in this novel. Jim remarks on Lena's sleepy eyes, her attractive features and figure, and her seductive charms. Lena has somewhat of a reputation in Black Hawk, as the girl who made crazy Ole Benson lose his mind. She starts a relationship with Jim when they are both in Lincoln, knowing full well that she will not commit to him. Jim has dreams of Lena running across a field to him, carrying a corn-knife and kissing him. Later, Lena earns the respect of Black Hawk when she becomes wealthy from her dressmaking.

The Vannis: An Italian family, the Vannis bring the dancing tent to Black Hawk. They abide by town council rules when running the dancing tent. The Vannis remark on Antonia's extraordinary talent for dancing.

Blind d'Arnault: The black, blind musician who plays the piano. Jim is fascinated by the way Blind d'Arnault can feel the music he is playing, even with his disability.

Larry Donovan: The young train conductor who fancies Antonia. He and Antonia are engaged to be married. He asks her to come to Denver, where he is on a run, so that they can be married there. However, he deserts her, leaving her unmarried and pregnant. Antonia bears the shame and humiliation proudly, returning to town unmarried, planning to raise her child alone.

Gaston Cleric: Jim's advisor at the University. He is an intelligent, brilliant young man, who shares many of Jim's thoughts and opinions, but is more worldly, having traveled to Italy and other places. He hears about Jim's involvement with Lena and warns Jim against her. Later, Cleric accepts a job at Harvard and advises Jim to follow him to Harvard to finish his education there.

Anton Cuzak: Antonia's husband. He is a frail, small man, but warm and kind. He and Antonia do not seem to have a passionate relationship, but share in an affectionate, caring marriage. Cuzak has had many jobs before settling in the Nebraska country with Antonia. Jim remarks that Cuzak is the 'instrument' of Antonia's art and destiny. He and Antonia have many children together and own a large, prosperous farm. Jim likes Cuzak and enjoys his company.

Leo Cuzak: One of Antonia's sons. He is described as the child whom Antonia loves the best, because he is very similar to her as a child. Leo plays Mr. Shimerda's fiddle, preserving and continuing the tradition of music in the family.

Minor Characters

Jake Marpole: Jim's immediate family's hired hand who accompanies young Jim to Nebraska, where he also works for the Burdens, Jim's grandparents. Jake has a soft heart. Both he and Otto Fuchs are role models for Jim. He admires them for their absolute dedication to their work.

Otto Fuchs: The Burdens' hired hand, an Austrian immigrant whom a young Jim declares looks like someone out of his book, Jesse James. Otto is a good worker; Jim admires him for being such a focused, responsible worker for his grandparents. Otto convinces Jake to go West with him when the Burdens move to town and leave their farm.

Yulka Shimerda: The Shimerdas' younger daughter. She is a sweet child. She loves to explore the country with Antonia and Jim. When Antonia has to help Ambrosch with tending the fields, Jim gives Yulka English lessons. Later, when Antonia starts working for the Harlings, she sends money and things for Yulka.

Marek Shimerda: The Shimerdas' crazy son.

Peter Krajiek: The Shimerdas buy their farm from Krajiek. He is their translator when they first arrive; he can therefore tell them anything not be caught.

Widow Steavens: The elderly and kind woman who rents the Burdens' farm when they move to Black Hawk. She tells Jim the story of Antonia's jilted marriage and the birth of her baby.

Anton Jelinek: The Christian Bohemian who helps the Shimerdas during Mr. Shimerda's death and burial. He lives in town and later owns a saloon. His cousin, Anton Cuzak, marries Antonia in the end.

Frances Harling: The Harlings' eldest child, already a woman when the Burdens move to town. She helps run her father's business when he is away. Frances knows everything and everyone in Black Hawk.

Charley, Sally, and Julia Harling: The Harling children who are close to Jim's age when he moves to Black Hawk. He and the Harlings are good friends.

Tiny Soderball: The immigrant girl who comes to town as a hired girl along with Antonia and Lena. Jim remembers Tiny as always tripping along to her job. Tiny later becomes wealthy herself, after she is deeded a claim out West and invests the money.

The Gardeners: The Gardeners run The Boys' Home, the best hotel in the area. Blind d'Arnault stays here when he comes to town for a concert. Tiny works for them as does Antonia, after she leaves the Cutters'.

Mrs. Cutter: The wife of the mad and evil Wick Cutter. She and Cutter actually enjoy insulting and fighting with each other. Cutter deliberately puts her on a train to Kansas City so that he can have time to rape Antonia. Cutter shoots his wife and then himself in the end.

Chris Lingard: One of Lena's younger brothers. Jim sees Lena and Chris shopping together one day in Black Hawk. When Chris visits, Lena is reminded of the farm life she left behind to work in town.

Ole Benson: A crazy Norwegian man who likes watching Lena herd cattle. The townspeople are in shock over Ole's public declaration of his lust for Lena, when he takes her home after church.

Crazy Mary: Ole Benson's crazy wife. She chases Lena around the prairie with a corn-knife when she learns that her husband lusts after her.

Anna: One of the hired girls. She goes with Antonia, Lena, Tiny, and Jim on a picnic where they see the image of the plough against the horizon.

Colonel Raleigh: Lena's landlord in Lincoln. He fancies her.

Mr. Ordinsky: Lena's neighbor in Lincoln. He is also Lena's suitor. He has proposed to her often, but Lena always turns him down.

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