My Ántonia truly shows how much Willa Cather grew as a novelist within just a few short years. She is much more self-assured and in control here, undoubtedly benefiting from the focus afforded by a first-person narrator. The strong characterization evident in O Pioneers! is even more fully realized here. Characters’ emotions are evoked, not dictated. None of the characters is perfect, or perfectly bad (with the exception of one unscrupulous, villainous character, but even he seems worthy of the smallest amount of pity); they reflect life as it is lived. Even the most admirable of characters is apt to be prideful, or selfish, or vindictive at times, just like you, me, and everyone we know. Cather loves her characters, flaws and all, this comes through plainly, and the readers loves them as well.
I’ll quote H.L. Mencken: “I know of no novel that makes the remote folk of the western prairies more real…and I know of none that makes them seem better worth knowing…” Word. Reading My Ántonia made me want to be a better human—kinder, more charitable, less lazy, more broad-minded, more worthy of my Ántonia, who I was fortunate enough to marry—and to feel that I could do so.