Success Stories and Characterizations of Immigrants

Throughout parts one and two of the novel, there is a major shift in the characterization of Feliciano, which takes place within the short time frame of his brother-in-law Gurmersindo’s death. At first, one could argue that Feliciano is depicted as Gumersindo’s “fringe” or “extremist” counterpart. In response to Gumerdinso’s decision to name his newborn son after a “great Gringo” Feliciano states, “They are all great…Great thieves, great liars, great sons-of-bitches. Show me a man of them who isn’t money-mad and one of their women who is not a harlot” (Pg. 16). This fanatical and intolerant characterization is situated in contrast to Gumersindo’s, which is one of absolute tolerance and acceptance. However these character portrayals are ephemeral, and a major shift in Feliciano’s character takes place after Gumersindo is murdered and obliges Feliciano to never tell his son why he was murdered, out of fear it would inspire hate in him. Shortly after, it seems that Feliciano inhabits many of his brother-in-law’s qualities.

What is constant throughout this shift is the employment of sympathetic character portrayals to the characters who inhabit first Gumersindo’s characteristics, and then eventually Feliciano’s. Paredes seems to be indicating that these are favorable qualities for an immigrant to occupy. That being said (according to a reading of the text that is incomplete), neither of these characters has truly achieved success. While more overtly Gurmersindo suffers a tragic death almost immediately after choosing to give the Rangers and/or Gringos the benefit of the doubt and remain put, Feliciano who becomes financially successful has not yet succeeded in what is presented as the ultimate immigrant accomplishment, for Gualinto “…to be a learned man and help his people” (Pg. 49) (which Feliciano admits to lacking a clear vision of what that would entail). Thus, there seems to be multiple and perhaps contradictory forces taking place within the text. While Paredes seems to elevate the immigrant characters in the novel that are sympathetic, he does not necessarily seem to be making the argument that these are the characters who will ultimately succeed. I am curious to see how the narrative ensues and to see whether Gualinto is eventually able to “help his people” and therefore attain greatness.

My Ántonia

As I read My Ántonia, one reoccurring theme I noticed was how vulnerable the Shimerdas became once they arrived to Black Hawk, Nebraska. Due to the Shimerda’s lack of support system in the United States, they were taken advantage of by the only townsperson who shared their common language, Peter Kraijek. Jim highlights that the Shimerda’s reliance on Kraijek became problematic. Even though Kraijek cheated the Shimerda’s out of a lot of money, they had to keep him around in order to survive in Nebraska. Without Kraijek’s help during the Shimerdas’ first few months, the Shimerdas would have had no land, no home, and no way to communicate with the village. Even though the Shimerdas were vulnerable, Jim demonstrated the family’s intelligence and perseverance. They desperately wanted to grow prosperous in the United States. Although this is a novel, vulnerability and lack of support is something that real immigrants still face in present day.

We eventually learn through Ántonia’s account that the Shimerdas came to America after Mrs. Shimerda begged her husband. The land was supposed to make her family rich and her daughters were meant to have many prospects for marriage(98.) However when the Shimerdas arrived in Nebraska they realized that the American Dream was more of an American Nightmare. This “nightmare” is what led to Mr. Shimerda’s depression and presumably his suicide. Even after Mr. Shimerda’s death, the family wore on. Through the creation of a new house and the tireless days ploughing the fields,  I found that Mrs. Shimerda still believed in the American Dream.

The idea of the American Dream aligns with what we have been discussing in class these first few weeks. Through discussion and our readings (specifically Boysen)  we explored the idea of immigrants coming to this land with the knowledge that they would fail, but with the hope that they would create a better future for their children. I believe that this can be one version of the American Dream. You start from nothing to eventually become rich with knowledge and resources. You start vulnerable and become powerful. Parents (such as Mrs. Shimerda and the late Mr. Shimerda) make sacrifices to eventually better the lives of their own children.