The author of the youthful recollection that makes up the body of the novel. As a youth in Nebraska, Jim develops a close friendship with a Bohemian immigrant girl, Ántonia Shimerda. Jim is an intelligent, introspective young man who responds strongly to the land and the environment in which he lives. Unlike most other boys his age, Jim is more interested in academics and reflection than in roughhousing; in fact, he seems to prefer spending time alone or with girls such as Ántonia. At the time of the narrative’s composition, Jim is married, but without children, and working as a legal counsel in New York City.
The focus of Jim’s recollection, and one of his closest childhood friends. Ántonia moves to Nebraska from Bohemia with the rest of her family in her early teenage years. Intelligent, optimistic, loyal, and kindhearted, the naturally gregarious Ántonia is forced to accept a difficult life after the death of her father. At the time Jim writes the narrative, she is raising her large family on the Nebraska prairie, not far from where she and Jim grew up.
A Norwegian immigrant’s daughter and a friend of Ántonia’s. Lena has a brief liaison with Jim in Black Hawk and a more extended relationship with him in Lincoln, where she sets up her own dressmaker’s shop. Lena is pretty and blonde, and craves independence and excitement. Men are always attracted to her, but she refuses to marry and give up her freedom.
Jim’s grandfather. Josiah is a strongly religious man, silent and given to hard work.
Jim’s grandmother. Emmaline shows great concern and compassion for the Shimerdas and is a loving maternal figure for Jim.
The Burdens’ hired hand, who looks like a cowboy out of one of Jim’s books but is actually an Austrian immigrant. Good-natured despite his rough appearance, Otto decides to seek his fortune in the West after the Burdens move to Black Hawk.
Another hired hand of the Burdens. Jake makes the trip from Virginia to Nebraska along with Jim and accompanies Otto out west after the Burdens move to Black Hawk. Jake has a powerful temper but generally displays a good-natured and even childlike innocence about the world.
The patriarch of the Bohemian immigrant family. A melancholy man given to artistic and scholarly pursuits, Mr. Shimerda feels very much out of place in foreign land. His depression eventually leads to suicide, leaving his family members to pick up the pieces and struggle to make a living on their own.
The matriarch of the Bohemian immigrant family. Mrs. Shimerda is a brusque, bossy, and often curt woman. After the suicide of her husband, she is forced to make do with the little that she has in an attempt to provide for her family.
The youngest of the Shimerda children. Yulka is a pretty, young girl who later helps Ántonia raise her baby.
The Shimerdas’ oldest son. Mrs. Shimerda and her daughters dote on Ambrosch, claiming that he is brilliant and the reason they came to America. Ambrosch shares his mother’s curt and presumptuous attitude, but becomes the unquestioned head of the family after Mr. Shimerda’s suicide.
The younger of the two Shimerda brothers. Marek’s physical deformities are accompanied by a handful of psychological instabilities and mental deficiencies.
One of the hired girls in Black Hawk and a friend to Ántonia and Lena. After working with Mrs. Gardener in the Boys’ Home, Tiny travels west and makes a small fortune during the Alaskan gold rush.
Tall, gaunt, and nervous, Pavel is an immigrant who falls ill under the care of the Shimerdas. He had been ostracized and forced to leave his native Russia after a frightful incident involving a wolf attack on a wedding party.
Pavel’s housemate, and a fat, happy man. Like Pavel, Peter was forced into exile from his native Russia following a wolf attack on a wedding party. Peter eventually finds himself severely in debt and sells off his belongings, leaving America for a job as a cook in a Russian labor camp.
The patriarch of the Harling family, neighbors to the Burdens in Black Hawk. A businessman of keen ability, Mr. Harling disapproves of Ántonia’s frequent carousals at the dancing pavilion and eventually forces her to leave her post as their housekeeper because of her lifestyle.
The matriarch of the Harling family, and a charismatic and active woman. Mrs. Harling develops a strong affection for Ántonia, and she provides myriad activities for her children, Ántonia, and Jim, to take part in.
The oldest of the Harling children. Frances has a sound business mind and manages her father’s accounts with a great deal of skill.
The only Harling son. Charley is of a military persuasion and eventually goes on to a successful career at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.
The middle Harling daughter. Julia is Jim’s age and has a penchant for music.
The youngest Harling daughter, and something of a tomboy.
Ántonia’s fiancé, and an arrogant and selfish young man. After being fired from his job as a railroad conductor, Donovan leaves Ántonia on the eve of their wedding, running away to Mexico in search of a quick fortune.
The proprietress of the Boys’ Home in Black Hawk.
A blind, black pianist. D’Arnault comes to Black Hawk on a blustery March weekend and gives a concert at the Boys’ Home that brings down the house.
The leading moneylender in Black Hawk and a shady character.
Jim’s tutor at the university in Lincoln. Cleric eventually moves on to a teaching position at Harvard University and brings Jim along with him. His premature death from pneumonia has a strong effect on Jim.
The Burdens’ tenant at their old farmhouse. Widow Steavens develops a close relationship with Ántonia in the time surrounding the breaking of Ántonia’s engagement.
A Bohemian homesteader and friend of the Shimerdas who later moves to Black Hawk and becomes a saloon proprietor.
A Bohemian immigrant and neighbor to the Burdens who sells the Shimerdas their first farm in America and cheats them out of several comforts.
A Bohemian immigrant to America who marries Ántonia and raises a large family with her.