During that burning day when we were crossing Iowa, our talk kept returning to a central figure, a Bohemian girl whom we had both known long ago. More than any other person we remembered, this girl seemed to mean to us the country, the conditions, the whole adventure of our childhood.
This passage from the Introduction is the first the reader hears of Ántonia. The narrator of the Introduction, who grew up with Jim and Ántonia in Nebraska, describes a train ride taken with Jim many years later and details their conversation about Ántonia. They agreed that Ántonia, more than any other person, seemed to represent the world they had grown up in, to the point that speaking her name evokes “people and places” and “a quiet drama . . . in one’s brain.” This quotation is important because it establishes that Ántonia will both evoke and symbolize the vanished past of Jim’s childhood in Nebraska. It situates Ántonia as the central character in Jim’s story and explains Jim’s preoccupation with her by connecting her to his memories of the past. Finally, it establishes Jim’s character with its implication that Jim shares the unnamed narrator’s romantic inclination to dwell on the past and to allow people and places to take on an extraordinarily emotional, nostalgic significance.