My Ántonia

What is it like to arrive in a new country? To not understand a word that people are saying?

This difficult journey is discribed with great feeling by Willa Cather in My Ántonia. Yet, it is not through Ántonia’s perspective that we learn of her struggles, but through the eyes of a young orphan boy named Jim Burden. At times it is as though the other homesteaders looking in do not understand Ántonia’s family’s situtation, such as when they were not fully prepared for their first winter. Jim’s grandmother wonders why Ántonia’s mother did not have the mind to keep chickens that winter, when perhaps the very act of acquiring the birds was more than she could handle in her culture stressed induced state.

The interesting thing is that Cather observes about half way through the book is it was the oldest children of the immigrant families, who had to work hard just to have food to eat, who when they stuck out on their own were the most successful. More successful than the American children and even their younger brothers and sisters.

This idea of struggle creating resiliency in people is something that has recently been brought to people’s attention through the media. Jane McGonigal did an interview on the Agenda with Steve Paikin recently where she told the story about a video game she designed to help her recover from a concussion and how it’s now being used to help other people recover from various diseases and truamaic situtations. We often so  hear about how difficult situations can bring people down, that we forget that in the end they can help people to become stronger, just like the immigrant children in Cather’s book.
Here is a TED Talk featuring McGonigal and her story:

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