The close relationship between humans and their environment is a major theme in My Ántonia and one of the ideas that Cather explored throughout her literary career. In My Ántonia, the focus is on landscape-—the natural, physical settings in which the characters live and move. Among Cather’s characters, Jim is especially sensitive to his environment, to the point that he invests human qualities in the landscape around him. Because of the scarcity of trees in the area, for instance, Jim remarks, “we used to feel anxious about them, and visit them as if they were persons.” His ability to treat trees as people reflects his compassion for nature.
At other times, aspects of the landscape come to represent emotions or ideas for Jim. Although Jim realizes that botanists have demonstrated the sunflower to be native to the Nebraska region, he prefers to believe Otto Fuchs’s story that the Mormons scattered the seeds from which the local sunflowers grew on their flight westward. For Jim, this romantic legend supersedes scientific explanation, and he prefers keeps the landscape as something to dream about, not necessarily as something to understand rationally.