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Intelligent and introspective, Jim is well qualified to
be the narrator of the story. His thoughtfulness gives him the ability
to portray himself and others with consistency and sympathy and
to convey the sense of a lost Nebraska with an evocative, poetic
accuracy. Furthermore, his romantic nature and strong attachment
to the people of his youth and to the Nebraska landscape give his
narrative a sense of deep commitment and a longing, nostalgic quality
that colors his story. The wistful nature of Jim’s memoir highlights
the novel’s emphasis on the past as something personal to the individual
who remembers it, which Jim acknowledges in choosing to call his
memoir “My Ántonia” rather than “Ántonia.” Jim
is not claiming ownership of Ántonia; he is indicating that the
story of Ántonia contained within his memoir is just as much a product
of his own mind and heart as it is of the past.
Over the course of the novel, Jim ages from a ten-year-old
boy into a middle-aged man, and grows from a shy orphan into a successful
lawyer for the railroad companies, acquiring an impressive education
along the way at the University of Nebraska and Harvard. In spite
of the great changes that he undergoes, Jim remains a consistent
character. He always has interest in others but is content to spend
time alone; he often assumes the role of the detached observer watching
situations unfold. The word “I” appears in My Ántonia with
surprising infrequency, given the fact that the novel is a first-person
memoir. Only at the end of the novel, when Jim sets aside his reservations
to reunite with the middle-aged Ántonia on the Cuzak farm, does
he seem to move past his passive role and make an active attempt
to connect with the past he cannot forget.
Jim’s most important relationship in the novel, of course,
is his friendship with Ántonia, and the fact that he allows Ántonia
to recede in his mind as an abstract symbol of the past is itself
a strong illustration of Jim’s introspective mentality. Rather than
remaining close to Ántonia through the years, Jim allows himself
to drift apart from her, always preserving her special place in
his heart by treating her memory with greater and greater nostalgia
as the years go by. Though the final segment of the novel—Jim’s
reunion with Ántonia after twenty years apart—is not presented as
a staggering breakthrough, it nevertheless seems to be a great step
forward in Jim’s growth and maturity. He can at last contemplate
re-creating a real relationship with Ántonia, acknowledging that
she still exists and is still herself even after the past that they
shared has ended.
Ace your assignments with our guide to My Ántonia!