The Role Of Ethnicity In Literature

914 words - 4 pages

Though it has become less of an issue in recent times, distrust of foreigners has always been an issue. This can be easily observed in Willa Cather’s My Ántonia. Within the first few pages, a statement is made about ‘alienating foreigners’. Jake, a friend and fellow traveler, tells the main character, Jim, that while Ántonia Shimerda has “pretty brown eyes…”, he points out that you are “…likely to get diseases from foreigners.” Jim’s first impression of the Bohemians is that they are illiterate, uneducated, disease-carrying people. Even after Jim learns to accept the Bohemians’ culture, the society around him continues to look down upon the immigrants, proving throughout the book that a culture with outsiders will always scorn those outsiders until they accept the same values and morals.
For instance, on page 16, Otto Fuchs, an Austrian friend, tells Jim’s grandmother that due to politics, “Bohemians has a natural distrust of Austrians”, regarding, of course, the distinct conflict that began WWI. When the Burdens finally meet the Shimerdas at their run-down home, everyone is surprised by Ántonia’s eagerness and impulsiveness. While the Shimerdas are accepting of each other, the Nebraskan-Americans are taken aback by the strange culture with which they’re now living. Even Ántonia notices and tells Jim that while life will “be easy for [him]… [It] will be hard for us,” because the Shimerdas are immigrants. Ántonia even sees that as a young girl, people will not be accepting of her family or herself just because they come from a different culture.
As she ages, Tony Shimerda begins to accept more and more of the “American Way”, even going so far as to change her name from “Ántonia” to “Tony”, a less Czech-sounding name. In addition, she begins to work away from home in the town when the Burdens, who had moved to town previously, find work for her there. However, the social prejudices follow her even there; townsfolk expect the girls that lived in town to be “‘refined’, and the country girls, who worked out, not.” Now, instead of being alienated as a Bohemian, she was being alienated as a country girl, as illustrated by Jim on page 129, where he notes, “I thought the attitude of the town people toward these girls very stupid. If I told my schoolmates that Lena Lingard’s grandfather was… much respected in Norway, they looked at me blankly. What did it matter? All foreigners are ignorant people who couldn’t speak English… The country girls were considered a menace to the social order.” This particular quote summed up Tony’s experience in America; no...

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