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.