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Who is the
protagonist of My Ántonia, Ántonia or Jim?
While many have argued that Ántonia is the
protagonist of the novel, she always remains at arm’s length from
the reader, accessible only through Jim’s imagination and memory
of her. When Jim scribbles a title onto his manuscript, he initially
writes “Ántonia,” but then revises it to “My Ántonia.” Thus, the
Ántonia we see is Jim’s Ántonia, and while she is a driving force
behind Jim’s recollection, Jim’s mind and feelings are still at
the center of the narrative, and his actions still determine the
shape of the novel. When Jim moves first to Lincoln and then to
Cambridge and New York, Ántonia recedes as an important character,
even if she dominates Jim’s thoughts when he is around her. My
Ántonia is most properly considered a novel of Jim’s education.
What is the
nature of Jim’s affection for Ántonia? Does Ántonia reciprocate
these feelings, or is the quality of her affection somehow different?
Is it fair to call their relationship a love relationship?
Jim has a romanticized affection for Ántonia
but not quite a romantic affection. He is unable to imagine her
in the same light as Lena Lingard, for whom he feels a coarser but
perhaps more practical passion. Still, the idealized love that Jim
feels for Ántonia eclipses the strength of Ántonia’s feeling for
him. Because she is somewhat older, and because her plight as an
immigrant’s daughter creates many hardships, she has less time and
energy to devote to romantic imaginations of Jim: while Jim is thinking
about his feelings for Ántonia, Ántonia is busy trying to help her
family survive after the death of her father.
Additionally, as young man born and raised in America,
Jim belongs to the dominant culture and is perhaps more easily able
to disregard Ántonia’s cultural differences than Ántonia herself
is. Having immigrated to America as a teenager, Ántonia is naturally more
aware of her own differences from Jim, simply because to her the
environment in which she lives never seems quite like her native environment;
as a result, she is slightly more insular about her affections than
Jim, with the result that her feelings become somewhat inscrutable
as the novel progresses. This side of Ántonia seems most strongly
demonstrated by her eventual decision to marry Cuzak, a Bohemian
immigrant like herself. Nevertheless, she is clearly of a romantic
persuasion, and the love she holds for Jim is akin to what an older
sister might feel for a younger brother. Thus, the love that comes
to develop between Ántonia and Jim falls somewhere in between familial
and romantic affection.
Jim fall within the social structure of Black Hawk that he outlines?
Jim describes a social structure in Black
Hawk that divides the respectable establishment from the generally
less-respected immigrants. While Jim is by default a member of the
respectable establishment, his relatively recent arrival in Black
Hawk and his vociferous rejection of established values serve to
place him outside of its bounds. Jim’s class and upbringing ensure
that he will never be an outcast on the level of the immigrant girls,
but his affection for them and his affiliation with them puts him
in a unique and ambiguous position within the Black Hawk social
Why does Jim
choose to live in New York City if he truly feels most at home in
Jim paints a very sentimental and idealized
picture of Nebraska, but this picture is a memory of a time that
has long since passed. While Jim could potentially return to Black
Hawk to practice law, his high-powered New York City job is a logical
extension of his high--powered education. When he returns to Nebraska
to visit Ántonia, he is greatly moved by the beauty and simplicity
of her rural life, but he finds Black Hawk nearly intolerable and
is at a loss for things to do there. Jim’s proper sphere as an adult
is certainly not Nebraska, although his fond memories of childhood
will always remain there, and his resolution to make more periodic
returns to his childhood home is certainly a positive move on his
part. The peculiarities of Jim’s life are such that, just as he
does not quite fit into the rigid social hierarchy of Black Hawk
as a young man, he does not quite fit into any geographical environment
as an adult. He seems to be fated to live in one place while always
thinking fondly of another.
Ace your assignments with our guide to My Ántonia!