The Narrator Jim Burden gives the manuscript for My Ántonia to the unnamed narrator in the introduction to the novel. Because Cather drew many incidents and people in this novel from her own life, her intent in creating this anonymous narrator may have been, in part, to dissuade readers from identifying Cather with first-person narrator Jim.
Jim Burden He relates a long series of memories about growing up on the Nebraska prairie with Ántonia, a Bohemian girl who seems to embody for him "the country, the conditions, the whole adventure of our childhood." Jim has had many disappointments as an adult, and he glorifies his childhood as the happiest time in his life.
Ántonia (ANN-toe-knee-uh) ("Tony") Shimerda She arrives at the Nebraska prairie the same night that Jim does, and they grow up together as neighbors. Despite many hardships in her life, Ántonia remains vitally alive and never loses hope for the future.
Josiah Burden Jim's grandfather — reserved, dignified, and taciturn. Grandfather Burden is "rather narrow in religious matters," but is also generous and fair. He believes that "the prayers of all good people are good." He usually remains neutral in disputes with the neighbors and often serves as a peacekeeper.
Emmaline Burden Jim's grandmother. Friendly even to the badgers who sometimes steal her chickens, she worries about Ántonia's family, the Shimerdas, although she doesn't wholly approve of them. She inspires confidence; Mr. Shimerda entrusts Ántonia's future to her. When gardening, she is never without her snake cane so that she can kill any stray rattlers.
Jake Marpole A teenage farmhand on the Virginia farm of Jim's father, Jake accompanies Jim west to work for Grandfather Burden. According to Jim, "Jake's experience of the world was not much wider than mine."
Otto Fuchs An Austrian immigrant who works for Grandfather Burden. Previously, he lived in mining camps and lost an ear in a Wyoming blizzard when he was a stage driver. He dresses in chaps, spurs, and cowboy boots, and looks like a man "out of the pages of Jesse James." For Jim, Otto epitomizes the romantic concept of the Old West cowboy.
Mr. Shimerda A cultured man, a tailor in Bohemia, and a violin player, he is homesick for the Old Country and can't adjust to harsh prairie life. He is close to Ántonia, and she understands him better than anyone else in the family.
Mrs. Shimerda Self-centered, grasping, and shrewish, she pressured her husband into moving the family to America because of her ambitions for her son, Ambrosch. Never satisfied with the kindness that her neighbors offer, she always expects them to do more.
Ambrosch Shimerda Ántonia's older brother — a coarse, vulgar, grasping, self-centered, and irresponsible man with no respect for his neighbors or their property. Whereas Ántonia's values are similar to Mr. Shimerda's, Ambrosch is more like Mrs. Shimerda.
Pavel and Peter Two Russians who live in a log cabin near a big prairie dog town, Peter is fat and friendly, but Pavel has "a wasted look." He's rumored to be an anarchist because of his "wild gesticulations and his generally excited and rebellious manner."
Widow Steavens A neighbor of the Burdens, she buys the Burden farm when they move to town. She tells Jim what happened to Ántonia while he was away at Harvard.
Peter Krajiek The crafty, dishonest Bohemian immigrant who sold the Shimerdas their farm and asked much more for it than it was worth.
Wick (Wycliffe) Cutter and Mrs. Cutter Black Hawk's moneylender is morally and socially bankrupt. He has grown rich by cheating the townspeople. His wife, angered by his stinginess, paints and sells china to embarrass him. Ironically, he thinks it's amusing. The Cutters' chief pleasure is fighting with each other. Wick finally kills his wife and, moments later, kills himself — in order to keep her family from inheriting his money.
Anton Jelinek A sympathetic Bohemian from Black Hawk, he comforts the Shimerdas after Mr. Shimerda's suicide. In dramatic contrast to their other countryman, Krajiek, Jelinek is friendly and sincere. He later operates a saloon in Black Hawk.
Mrs. Christian Harling Mrs. Harling exerts a strong influence on both Jim and Ántonia: "Every inch of her was charged with an energy that made itself felt the moment she entered a room." She hires Ántonia to work for her and teaches her many practical skills. Mrs. Harling makes her household interesting for her children, but when her husband is home, she devotes herself to him.
Christian Harling A grain merchant and cattle buyer, Mr. Harling is autocratic and imperial. He wears a caped overcoat and sports a diamond ring on his little finger. The household revolves around him; Jim Burden will not go there when he is home.
Frances Harling The oldest Harling daughter, Frances helps her father in his business. In addition to her exceptional business judgment, Frances has musical talent and is a friendly, outgoing person.
Lena Lingard Jim Burden remarks, "To dance 'Home, Sweet Home' with Lena was like coming in with the tide." A sensuous, Norwegian immigrant girl, Lena is like Circe in Homer's Odyssey, distracting men from their goals. She likes to have fun and plans never to marry. Later, she becomes a successful dressmaker.
Tiny Soderball A hired girl in Black Hawk, she eventually moves to Seattle and opens a lodging house. She becomes rich in Alaska when a dying prospector deeds her his mine. Like Lena Lingard, she never marries, but unlike Lena, she becomes cynical in later life.
Johnnie Gardener He owns the Boys' Home Hotel in Black Hawk, where Tiny works. He likes to drink and have a good time, but he realizes he'd be only a clerk if it weren't for Mrs. Gardener, whom he is a little afraid of.
Molly Gardener The best-dressed woman in Black Hawk, she is indifferent to her possessions. Taciturn and cold, there is "something Indian-like in the rigid immobility of her face." She is the one who keeps the hotel going. The hotel bus is named "Molly Bawn" for her.
Blind d'Arnault A black musician who plays the piano one night at the hotel in Black Hawk. His music helps make the dull town life endurable for Jim.
The Vannis One summer, they arrive in Black Hawk and open a dancing pavilion. They keep good order and close on time. Their tent gives children something to do on long summer nights.
Sylvester Lovett Sylvester loves Lena Lingard but doesn't have sufficient courage to marry a "hired girl," so he marries a widow with property. Jim Burden regards him with contempt.
Harry Paine Harry, who is to be married soon, tries to kiss Ántonia. Mr. Harling hears the fuss and gives Ántonia an ultimatum: Either she give up going to the dances or else she move out and find work elsewhere.
Larry Donovan A train conductor and professional ladies' man, Larry courts Ántonia and persuades her to come to Denver on the promise of marriage. He doesn't marry her, spends all of her money, gets her pregnant, and disappears.
Anna Hansen Always dignified, Norwegian Anna is a hired girl working for the Marshalls.
Ole Benson and Crazy Mary Ole is a simple, discouraged farmer who has a crush on Lena Lingard. His wife, Crazy Mary, chases Lena with a corn knife.
Mary Dusak One of the three Bohemian Marys, she is bold, resourceful, and unscrupulous. Her broad face, marked with smallpox scars, is framed with beautiful chestnut hair. The housekeeper for a bachelor, she becomes pregnant with his baby.
Mary Svoboda Another of the Bohemian Marys, she too has an illegitimate baby. The three Marys are considered highly explosive, but, in time, they all settle down to become thrifty housewives.
Gaston Cleric Jim Burden's mentor and the head of the Latin Department at the university in Lincoln. Having suffered a long illness while he was in Italy, he came west at his doctor's suggestion.
Colonel Raleigh Lena Lingard's landlord in Lincoln falls in love with her and gives her a black spaniel named Prince. The southern colonel has invested his money in real estate at inflated prices and cannot understand why his estate value is dwindling.
Ordinsky A Polish violin teacher, also in love with Lena, he thinks Colonel Raleigh and Jim are compromising her reputation. Finally, he decides that Jim is a worthy friend. He is often wild-tempered, raving about the poor cultural tastes of Lincoln's citizens.
Anton Cuzak He comes to visit his cousin Anton Jelinek, meets and marries Ántonia Shimerda, and reluctantly becomes a farmer. Homesick at times, he works hard and credits Ántonia for helping make the farm prosper.