Jim Burden’s life changes drastically at the age of 10, when he is forced to travel cross-country by train to live on the Nebraska frontier with his grandparents after the death of his parents. Jim was accompanied by his father’s former farmhand Jake. On that same train headed to Nebraska, there is a Bohemian family headed to the same place. ? Jim's grandparents are simple yet kind people with generous natures. He begins to enjoy the wide open spaces of the frontier. Soon after his arrival, the Burdens go to meet their new neighbors, the Shimerdas. Jim meets Mr.
Shimerda, an educated musician, Mrs. Shimerda a shrewish woman who comes across as demanding, the eldest son Ambrosch, Marek, Yulka, and the eldest daughter Antonia. Soon after meeting, Antonia and Jim become friends. The Shimerdas unfortunately are not faring well in their new country, but do eventually become friends with Peter and Pavel, two Russian men. Jim and Antonia become even closer, after Jim impresses her by killing a snake. Winter follows, Jim gets very ill, and Pavel passes away. Peter then decides to move away, which greatly upsets Mr. Shimerdas.
Right in the middle of one of the largest snowstorms that Nebraska had seen in ten years. Mr. Shimerda commits suicide after neatly arranging himself in the barn. The following day when Jim is left alone in the house, he then feels Mr. Shimerda's spirit. The Shimerda family insist that Mr. Shimerda’s body must be buried on their property. While unorganized, the funeral ceremony is very moving. After this, the Burdens and a few other neighbors come together as one in a combined effort to aid the Shimerdas. In order to help her family, Antonia stops attending school and begins farming in the fields just as a man would.
Jim becomes resentful that Antonia is no longer able to spend as much time with him as he would have liked. The Shimerdas briefly upset their neighbors by acting in a very ungrateful way in response to all of the help that they had received from their friends. Eventually though, everyone is reconciled. After living in the country for three years Jim's grandparents decide it best to move to Black Hawk in order for Jim to go to school. Antonia also comes into this town to work for the Harlings. Other immigrant country girls also start working in the town, and they become known as the hired girls.
Jim begins to spend a lot of his free time with Antonia and the Harling children. Dancing becomes the new rage in Black Hawk, and Antonia really starts to enjoy it and begins going all the time. When Antonia starts making a bad name for herself, the Harlings ask Antonia to quit going to the dances. In response, Antonia decides to quit her job and starts working for Wick Cutter. During this time Jim becomes a bit antisocial and beings only spending time with Antonia and a few other hired girls. Jim begins to focus on his studies a lot in preparation for college and can’t wait to leave Black Hawk behind as soon as he can.
At his college in Lincoln, Jim becomes extremely close with Gaston Cleric, his Latin instructor and mentor. The two start to spend a good amount of time talking intimately together. Although Jim does come to the realization that he is not, and never will, an academic as Gaston is. One of Jim’s favorite hired girl, Lena Lingard, comes to visit him one day, and they begin to rekindle their past friendship by going to plays together. The two begin spend a lot of time together, even though two other men are openly in love with her.
As a result of Lena’s sudden reappearance his life, Jim begins to let his grades drop. In response to Jim’s lax approach to his schoolwork, Gaston Cleric asks Jim to come with him to Harvard to continue his studies. To Lena’s dismay, Jim agrees, and follows Gaston to Harvard. Before entering law school two years later, Jim decides to return home to Black Hawk, where he hears of Antonia. Antonia had apparently gotten pregnant and was engaged to be married to Larry Donovan. She had apparently followed Larry to Denver, where he proceeded to run off after all of her money was gone.
Antonia was forced to then return home to her family's farm where she then gave birth and helped to work the land. Jim heres of this and goes to visit her. Antonia is a bit surprised that Jim is not disappointed in her for poor decisions. Jim finally returns to see Antonia after twenty years passed. He heard that Antonia had finally gotten married, to a man named Anton Cuzak, and together they had bore about ten children. Jim has also heard that Antonia has had a hard life, and he’s a bit nervous about seeing how the years had affected her.
When he arrives at their farm, Jim is greeted by her large family. Antonia doesn't seem recognize him immediately, but becomes extremely excited once she does. She proceeds to show him all around her family’s farm, which seems to be so full of life. Everywhere they go, everyone seems so happy and content. Jim is happy to see his childhood friend Antonia looking well. He stays the night in the barn with two of the boys, so that he may meet Antonia’s husband and eldest son the next day. The following day Jim meets Cuzak, Antonia’s husband.
Jim and Cuzak hit it off immediately, and it becomes apparent to him that Cuzak and Antonia's marriage is one of mutual happiness and equality. Jim leaves but promises Antonia’s sons that he will return to Black Hawk one day soon, and take them all hunting. On his way out, Jim finds the old dirt road that he once used to lead him home to his grandparents' farm, and he begins to think about how that road changed his future and how now he has returned full circle back to where he had started years and years ago. Just like with any novel, setting plays a key role.
Jim's first impression of his new home on the Nebraska frontier is that it seems vast and empty. He feels that he has stepped out of civilization as he knew it, and that Nebraska will be a new experience, in which he will have to learn to live by a new set of rules and conduct. Jim is leaving his past life completely behind, and will become an entirely new person on the Nebraska frontier. Because of this, he feels as though his old self is now "erased" and "blotted out" as he travels to his grandfather's house. I found that the “lone plough” also held great significance in this novel.
To me, it showed that while in the moment something may seem highly important, but in the end its really nothing more than an insignificant memory. Years ago that plough was probably a must have on the Nebraska frontier, and was seen as a shiny new toy to most farmers, but now years later it is left to rust in a field after it became no longer useful to its owner. Looking back at the plough, the farmer probably wouldn’t remember it as the shiny new toy he thought it once was, but instead remembers it as a reliable piece of farm equipment, nothing more and nothing less.
While these some what small details hold much importance, I found that the larger picture took me somewhat by surprise and left me remembering this story. For me, while I read the book I found it somewhat interesting with little things happening here and there. With subplots every now and again, and different rising actions eventually leading to a climax. But I thought that the book was rather dull, and lacked interest. Reading it, became mundane to me. That was until the very end. I found that end brought it all together for me.
While the story seemed to drag on with little motivation, the end made me realize how much the characters really had accomplished. This reminds me life, from day to day things may seem boring but before you know it, you have accomplished one of your largest goals, and are now looking back wishing that you could do it all over again. I find myself wanting to reread My Antonia to reminisce in the character’s small accomplishments along the way; because while in reality I may not be able to, at least with this book I can relive the climb.