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At the university, Jim comes under the influence of a
young scholar named Gaston Cleric. He takes rooms with an elderly
couple on the edge of Lincoln and quickly becomes engrossed in his
studies. During the summer, he remains in Lincoln to study Greek
under the terms of his enrollment.
One evening, during the spring of his sophomore year,
Jim is deep in thought when someone knocks at his door. He is slow
to recognize his visitor, but soon realizes that it is Lena Lingard,
dressed in her city finery. She explains to him that she has set
up in Lincoln as a dressmaker, and she describes the details of
her business affairs. When Jim asks after Ántonia, Lena explains
that Ántonia has taken up work with Mrs. Gardener at the hotel and
is engaged to Larry Donovan. Jim greets this news with a mixture
of pleasure and dismay, and he mentions an urge to go home and take
care of her. Lena changes the subject to the theater, and Jim asks
if she would like to get together for a theater outing in the near
future. Lena agrees to this proposal and departs as quickly as she
has come, leaving Jim among his books in the solitude of his study.
Throughout the spring, Jim and Lena attend a series of
plays together. One play in particular, Camille, the
story of a man’s love for a woman dying of tuberculosis, affects
them both very strongly.
In addition to spending time with Lena at the theater,
Jim visits her regularly at her dressmaking shop and takes Sunday
breakfasts with her at her apartment. As the weeks wear on, Jim
becomes less interested in his classes and spends more and more
time hanging about with Lena and her circle. Near the end of the
academic term, Cleric informs Jim that he has accepted an instructorship
at Harvard College and wants Jim to accompany him east. After receiving
the blessing of his grandfather, Jim resolves to leave Lincoln,
and he visits Lena to tell her his decision. While sad to hear the
news, she makes no attempt to hold him back. When the term ends,
Jim returns home to be with his grandparents for a few weeks. He
then makes a visit to his relatives in Virginia before joining Cleric
Book III reflects another major
narrative shift in the novel: Jim’s transition to college. Although
Jim’s move from the farm to Black Hawk—the break separating Books I and II—makes
for a change of scenery, his sense of place is still firmly rooted
in the nearby countryside that he roamed as a boy. But with his
entry into the university at Lincoln in Book III,
a more permanent rift between his past and his present begins to
establish itself. Jim’s initial impulse is to reject the lure of
“impersonal” scholarship in favor of his “own naked land and the
figures scattered upon it.” He finds himself torn between study
and memory, excited by the lure of learning new forms, but at the
same time plunged back into thoughts of his past. In the face of the
new, Jim finds the old people and ways “strengthened and simplified,”
though it is unclear whether such an improvement is more a virtue
of the past itself or a result of thinking about the past in a new
In either event, the nostalgia that Jim begins to feel
at the university is extremely intense, and it begins to hamper
his ability to live in the present. The people that he carries with
him in his mind are so alive to him that he “scarcely stopped to
wonder whether they were alive anywhere else, or how.” Ántonia soon
comes to display a similar tendency to live in the past at the expense
of her present.
The idea that takes hold of Jim most strongly in the course
of his study is the concept of patria, or loyalty
to one’s specific place of origin, a concept prominent in the works
of the renowned Latin poet Virgil. The heart of My Ántonia lies
not in its existence as an American novel, or even as a novel of
the American Midwest, but rather as a fictionalized document of
childhood in a town like Cather’s own Red Cloud, Nebraska. The devotion
that Cather, and by extension Jim, feels is not for the cosmopolitan
present in which they are immersed but rather for the provincial
countryside of their youth, which they carry in their hearts always.
Jim’s complete separation of his Lincoln world from his
Black Hawk world is undermined by the visit he receives from Lena
Lingard. She acts as a link between his past and his present and
continues to stand in Ántonia’s place as an object of his desire.
Jim’s relationship with Lena is curiously sterile; although he spends
a great deal of time with her, their interaction is rarely charged
with the same quality of emotional intensity as his earlier interactions with
With the security of his childhood and his early family
life slipping away from him, Jim finds himself in an aimless and
unhappy state. Cather makes use of a play (Camille)
within the novel to illustrate Jim’s mood, presenting his wistful
perspective in the middle of a particularly wrenching theatergoing
experience. As he watches the tragic story told in Camille unfold,
Jim feels “helpless to prevent the closing of that chapter of idyllic
love” in which the protagonist’s “ineffable happiness was only to
be the measure of his fall.” The unhappy fate of the drama’s male
character is Jim’s fate as well, and Cather suggests that art itself
is of value as a reflection of our own emotions and experiences.
Jim marvels at the power of art to get at such universal
truths “across long years and several languages,” but at the same
time he reveals his own subjective bias about art’s meaning, asserting
that “whenever and wherever that piece is put on, it is April.”
The play has crystallized for him a certain emotion that he associates
with April, but in linking the play automatically to this emotion,
he potentially limits the breadth of his actual experience.
Ace your assignments with our guide to My Ántonia!