The American Dream. Its the life that everyone would like to live, and work their life away to accomplish it. For many, there are different versions of this stature that has become infamous throughout American history. When one breaks it down, however, there are actually four tenants of the American Dream. Land. Individualism.
Progress. Self-reliance. The search for the American Dream is a story that could be told a thousand times, and My Antonia is no different. For every tenant, there is a character in the book either searching for it, or actually accomplishing it. However, to explain each one of them would take very serious evaluation, so one will be explained. My Antonia most definitely has the Progress tenant throughout the epic story.
Progress in My Antonia is well documented in three of the characters- Antonia Shimerda Cuzak, Jim Burden, and Lena Lingard. These three, who could arguably be considered the most important characters in the book, all have their own dreams of success, and all of them go down different paths to accomplish it. Weather they do or not depends on whom you ask. However, all three of their lives had Progress play a major role at one time or another. Lena Lingard lived in a harsh world in the early years of her life. She lived with her father Chris Lingard, who was said to "not be a very successful farmer, and he had a large family".
(107) She herded the cattle and never had much for clothes and had no shoes, for her father could not afford them. She always made the best of it, having fun with neighbors and never being embarrassed about her poor clothing. She even sent her neighbor Ole Benson out of his mind with her beauty and charm. This didnt please his wife, who was affectionately known as 'Crazy Mary. It wasnt an uncommon sight when Crazy Mary would chase Lena with a corn knife! Eventually, she went into the town of Black Hawk and moved in with the Thomas.
Th Progress first appears in the book when she showed up at the Harlings house to welcome Antonia and Jim, who moved into Black Hawk as well. When Jim asked who she was working for, she replied, "For Mrs. Thomas, the dressmaker. She is going to teach me how to sew. She says I have quite the knack. Im through with the farm. There aint any end to the work on the farm, and always so much trouble happens.
Im going to be a dressmaker". (104) Her enthusiasm in her new profession shows of her desire to be the best she could be. It was laid down right away- her American Dream was to be a successful dressmaker. As the book moves along, Lena is revealed to be a very outgoing and exciting person, the traits of one who will accomplish anything they put their mind to.
After growing up in town, she moved to Lincoln, a larger city in Nebraska. There she ran into Jim again. She reveals that she recently set up "a dressmaking shop in the Raleigh Block, out on O Street. Ive made a real good start". (171) As the story later progresses from that point, Lena ends up moving to California and setting up shop there, and becomes very successful in her craft. When it comes to Lena Lingard, the Progress she makes is great and should be taken note of.
She lived a rough life until she moved into Black Hawk and discovered her gift of dressmaking. She set the goal of becoming a successful dressmaker and she accomplished it with leaps and bounds. Lena Lingard in My Antonia is a great example of grace under fire. The next character to be mentioned is Jim Burden. His early years of his life were just as hectic as Lena was.
After his parents died when he was only ten years old, he was sent to Nebraska to live with his grandparents. The Burdens lived out in the farming atmosphere that was America in the 1900's. Near to their house were the Shimerda, who obviously became key people in their lives. For the longest time Jim and Antonia were living in a fantasy world, Jim teaching her to read, going horseback riding, and digging in prairie dog towns. This lifestyle came to an abrupt end in the first winter they spent there, when it was learned of that Mr. Shimerda had committed suicide. Mr. Shimerda wasnt very happy with moving to America, as even Jim told himself, "I knew it was homesickness that killed Mr. Shimerda".
(66) After that incident, the two were brought back to reality. Antonia went to work for her brother, while the Burdens moved to Black Hawk. In Black Hawk, Jim began going to school. This furthered his intellect and perspective on many things in the world, which is Progress in its own right. Though he wasnt making money or getting honors for it, the teaching was preparing him to move far in the world. Antonia soon came to town to work for Jims neighbors, the Harlings.
She learned how to do normal household chores and such, while was able to see Jim more again. After going through school in Black Hawk, Jim went to college in Lincoln. There he met Gaston Cleric, the head of the Latin Department. With him his perspective of the world was completely changed, and he gained a love for poetry. There was a sense of envy from Jim at points for Gaston position in life. However, Jim did have his own plans for what hed do when he made it into the real world, and was set upon accomplishing them without haste.
When Gaston was relocated to Harvard College in Boston, Jim went with him to further his education. At this level, Jim Burden now has a high level of education, a level of education that would bring him very far in the world. After completing his course there, Jim went to their prestigious law school. It is extremely vague on what profession he had, but he ended up constantly traveling to the western United States and even over to Europe, so his job had to be a very secure one. Antonia probably had the more amazing life of the three. Living with her family by the Burdens after moving from the old country, she immediately got attached to Jim, getting the lessons and just having fun for many months.
After her father killed himself, things changed. She became more serious and treated Jim like a little boy. She went to do hard farm work for her brother and other local farms. The happy little girl that Jim knew and loved changed to a hard working woman. However, she wasnt getting anywhere, with Ambrosch pocketing the money all the time. After time went by, Mrs. Burden put an end to it by getting Antonia a job with the Harlings, saying "unless shes been spoiled by the hard life shes led, she has it in her to be a real helpful girl".
(99) When at the Harlings home, she becomes an assistant to Mrs. Harlings chores, like cooking and cleaning. She was now able to have fun with Lena and Jim again, especially when a traveling group set up a dance tent later in the summer. Antonia was developing more into the girl that she used to be, and has a vast variety of job experience. As her life went on, though, her climb came to a stop. After she had a bad relationship with a sea captain named Larry Donovan that led to a divorce, she married a simple man named Cuzak, who didnt know much about farming and didnt want to. They had a large family and lived a happy life on the farm that Antonia grew up on, never losing or gaining anything.
Out of these three, Jim Burden had to be the most successful; he went to the best college, went to Harvard Law, and traveled the world in his chosen profession. He was smart and wise, and got far in the world with what little he had to start with. He was a man that was destined for success. Lena Lingard was the girl who overcame the odds that were stacked against her. She survived her rough childhood, and became a respected and popular dressmaker in California. Her life consisted of many obstacles, but she was able to overcome them with sheer guts and determination.
Though those two did very well for themselves, Antonia was the happiest. She really didnt desire to go anywhere away from home, so she didnt. She instead had a large family to love and care for. Her intent on life wasnt to make a big name for herself; her intent was just to live life to its fullest. Though she didnt Progress materialistically, she Progressed in a spiritual matter. She had a very hard life, with her father killing himself and her brother commanding over her.
Her obstacles were to make her life happy and worthwhile once again, and she did that with flying colors. When one gets down to it, isnt that what the American Dream is all about The pursuit of happiness and success Though Jim and Lena are the showcasing examples of the Progress tenant in the American Dream, Antonia did just as well for herself. She saved herself from her hurtful past. She made her life happy. She did her American Dream; she was in America, and she was making herself happy. And that is all that matters.