My Antonia By Willa Cather

The Inability to Provide for His Family, and Why it Drove Mr. Shimerda to

Suicide My Antonia, by Willa Cather, is a novel about Jim Burden and his
relationship and experiences growing up with Antonia Shimerda in Nebraska.

Throughout the book Jim reflects on his memories of Nebraska and the Shimerda
family, often times in a sad and depressing tone. One of the main ways Cather is
able to provoke these sad emotions within the reader is through the suicide of

Antonia's father, Mr. Shimerda. His death was unexpected by everyone and it is
thought that homesickness is what drove him to take his own life. Homesickness
was surely felt by Mr. Shimerda, as it was by many, but it was the failure to
adequately find a way to provide for his family that sent Mr. Shimerda into a
depressing downward spiral that left him no foreseeable alternative but to take
his own life. The first descriptions of Mr. Shimerda are that of a successful
businessman that had always provided well for his family. I noticed how white
and well-shaped his own hands were. They looked calm, somehow, and skilled. His
eyes were melancholy, and were set back deep under his brow. His face was
ruggedly formed, but it looked like ashes - like something from which all the
warmth and light had dried out. Everything about this old man was in keeping
with his dignified manner (24) Mr. Shimerda was indeed a prosperous man in

Bohemia, but had made his living in the business world, not by running a farm to
provide for his family's needs. His hands show that he rarely performed hard
manual labor, but that he did work hard with his hands to weave. His face
however shows signs that he was already having doubts about the welfare of his
family and their survival. The apparent glow that he must have once had was now
replaced by the look of heavy thoughts. This came from the burden of providing
for his family by way of very unfamiliar and difficult means. He had already
lost a great deal of money in the family's traveling expenses and overpaid for
their property. "They paid way too much for the land and for the oxen,
horses and cookstove" (22). Mr. Shimerda must not have thought that he
would have to support his family by means of plowing fields for food and
actually building a home from materials gathered from the earth. He was a
businessman and made a life for his family in Bohemia by working. "He was a
weaver by trade; had been a skilled work man on tapestries and upholstery
materials" (22). There was no work for him in this new country and he did
not have the money to relocate his family. Certainly before he left Bohemia he
believed that they had more than enough money to get by. The reality of his
family's circumstances was just beginning to show their impact. Antonia points
out to Jim that Mr. Shimerda looks ill "My papa sick all the time"

Tony panted as we flew. He not look good, Jim" (36). It is obvious that Mr.

Shimerda was terribly stressed and was staring to show it physically. Most
likely he looked ill due to not sleeping and eating. Nevertheless, Mr. Shimerda
wanted desperately do the best that he could for his family. He moved his family
with the hopes of finding good husbands for his daughters and wealth and land
for his son. He calls onto Jim to teach Antonia to read. He does so in a very
pleading, helpless way which leaves an unforgettable memory in Jim's mind. Jim
takes on the task, but unfortunately Mr. Shimerda gets little help from anyone
else in the town for anything. Mr. Shimerda never really understands why he
receives virtually little help from neighbors getting the farm going. He knows
nothing about running the farm, and didn't even have the appropriate tools
necessary. He and his family on the other hand are very trusting and would give
the shirts off their backs to anyone who needed anything from them. "There
never were such a people as the Shimerdas for wanting to give away everything
they had" (38). He loses more hope for help when Krajiek tells him that
even going into town for anything would be risking what little the family had
left. The burden of not providing for his family only gets worse. His family has
to bear the cold winter in a dugout with