My Antonia Didn’t Change, But I Sure Did

My Ántonia Didn’t Change, But I Sure Did

Deep in the pages of My Ántonia, I was shocked to find that the fortunes of the title character, an impoverished Bohemian girl, had changed since the last time I’d read the book over 20 years ago.

Fresh out of college, an ambitious, early-20s version of me got to the ending of Willa Cather’s novel of pioneer life and put down the book with a disappointed grunt.

[Spoiler alert!]

A vivacious immigrant on the desolate Nebraska prairie, Ántonia’s zest for life and unfailing energy enchanted those around her. In her middle age, though, according to my memory of the end of the book, she was dejected, lonely, still mired in poverty, a broken-down failure who was losing her teeth. Unlike the other country girls she had grown up around who had gone on to success in business or adventure in the Yukon, Ántonia had stayed on the prairie, married a poor man, and pumped out a large batch of kids.

I remember being angry at the author for making me care about this woman only to give her such a depressing end.

But the thing is, this wasn’t how the book ended at all.

When the narrator visited Ántonia in her middle age, he found her happily married with a large family of loving, respectful children. Ántonia’s spark for life was completely intact. She was strong and in good health; although she had lost most of her teeth, it didn’t bother her.

The details of my memories of Ántonia’s miserable ending were nowhere to be found.

I discovered that while Ántonia hadn’t changed, I had. The just-out-of-college me had seen her modest existence on the farm as a sad ending for her, while the happily-married-with-two-great-kids me thought she turned out just fine.

Has a book changed for you over time?

{This is part of a series, “Scene from a memoir I haven’t written yet.”}

About Marcy

I blog about trying to get out of my comfort zone, completing 101 things in 1001 days (and beyond), and writing my memoirs. My book: Timid No More.

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13 Responses to My Antonia Didn’t Change, But I Sure Did

  1. Rahmath says:

    This seems like an interesting book. I liked how you had said “Antonia hadn’t changed , I had” It was nice.

    But I think this will be a tough prompt for me. I don’t have any such book in my memories. Will wait for the next prompt.

    And btw Marcy….
    where are the photos?????I would love to see them.

  2. Jennifer says:

    This is such a thought provoking post. It’s interesting to see how your perspective changed over time. Like Rahmath, I don’t think I have a book or movie like that in mind, but I’m trying to think of a similar story. I’ve been experiencing a bit of “scene from a memoir” writer’s block.

  3. I love this post! It has made me want to re-read so many books that I read in the past. I had never thought about how the years could change your perspective on an ending, or a book – it’s very thought provoking!! Thank you for sharing this wonderful post with the Gallery of Favorites.
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  4. This reminds me of my recent experience reading ‘The Secret Garden’ to my daughter thinking it was a delightful happy book, but in fact the beginning is rather grim and the secret garden takes a long time to appear, so much so she became impatient and started to create her own digital garden. It seems I only remembered the good parts and forgot about its grim beginning and hadn’t anticipated the short attention span of a 21st century child. We never finished the book after a visitor (we were in hospital) lent her the DVD!
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  5. I would love to go back and re-read some of the books I read as a teenager. I’m sure I’d have a similar experience. Also, I decided at a young age that I could handle Shakespeare and Dostoyevski, and although I plowed through and could tell what happened in the story, I’m quite sure I didn’t really “get it.”
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  6. Kat says:

    This happens with me with a lot of movies I watched as a child, only to grow up and realize I had the story line all wrong (Sound of Music). I read My Antonia in college and I think even wrote a paper on it! I’ll need to dig that up!
    Kat recently posted..Sometimes It Causes Me To TREMBLEMy Profile

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  10. Andrea says:

    Perspective. It’s a funny thing. You just made me go back and read something I first read right out of college 🙂

  11. Hi Marcy, you are lucky to be so aware. It’s amazing how ‘reality’ changes depending on our perspective.
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