She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true. I had not been mistaken. She was a battered woman now, not a lovely girl; but she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one’s breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in common things. She had only to stand in the orchard, to put her hand on a little crab tree and look up at the apples, to make you feel the goodness of planting and tending and harvesting at last. All the strong things of her heart came out in her body, that had been so tireless in serving generous emotions.
It was no wonder that her sons stood tall and straight. She was a rich mine of life, like the founders of early races.
This quotation, which concludes Book V, Chapter I, finds the adult Jim still contemplating the fascination he feels for Ántonia. Here he attributes her significance to her nurturing and generous presence, which suggests an enviable fullness of life. Ántonia evokes “immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true” because she is full of love and loyalty. As Jim portrays it, Ántonia is a “rich mine of life,” an inexhaustible source of love and will from which others draw strength and warmth. This portrayal explains why Ántonia lingers so prominently in the minds of so many people from Jim’s childhood (Jim, Lena, the narrator of the introduction). In her presence they have been filled with the love and strength that she exudes, and they will never forget the way it made them feel.
Apart from standing as the novel’s final important analysis of Ántonia, this quote is important because it reveals the psychological changes that the passage of time has wrought in Jim. Whereas before he avoided Ántonia for twenty years because he did not want to see the lovely girl he knew transformed into a hardened, overworked matron, he can now see beyond Ántonia’s age to her essential inner quality, which he finds can still “stop one’s breath.” This newfound connection to the present indicates that Jim can finally move beyond his dreamlike preoccupation with his nostalgia for his youth and contemplate Ántonia as more than a symbol of the past.