My Antonia By Cather In the past, critics have ad moralized and/or brutalized every writer they could get their pen on. This is seen from criticisms of Henry Adams to William Butler Yeats. These writers critique everything about the writer and his/her works. For instance many critics criticize Willa Cather’s novel, My Antonia. Their criticisms lie on the basis that My Antonia is based on cyclical themes with no structure holding each of the My Antonia’s books. In other words, as a collection of five different accounts remembered by the main character, Jim Burden, My Antonia is characterized by a loose plot structure yet the existence of common themes is expressed in a cyclical nature.
According to James E. Miller, Jr.’s ” ‘My Antonia’: A Frontier Drama of Time,” Willa Cather’s novel, My Antonia, is “defective in structure.” (Bloom 51) Its structure is basically based on the narrators’, which is Cather herself, point of view about when the main character, Jim Burden, remembers specific moments in an abstract pattern in his life about his Antonia. This is so because the collection of books that make up the novel, My Antonia, is about Willa Cather; the narrator’s idea of what and to what point Jim Burden remembers. Miller also states that the novel “lacks focus and abounds in irrelevancies.” (Wells 1) This is due to the fact that Cather didn’t provide and consistent character portrayal throughout her novel. Another critic, Kim Wells, asserts Miller’s opinion on the novel.
Because as he states the novel has many “variations from a theme.” (Wells 1) For instance the section about the hired girls and also the part when Peter and Pavel, two lonesome Russian Settlers, tell Jim and Antonia a tragic tale that horrifies and fascinates the children. This tale was about when Peter and Pavel drove a sled with a bridal couple across dark, snowy Russian country and were attacked by hordes of ravenous wolves, where the wolves killed both the bride and the groom. These examples are “divergences which weaken the overall structure of the novel.” (Wells 1) Even though both critics say that the novel has a loose structure, they also state that the only thing that resembles any type of structure is the constant use of cyclical themes. For instance as Miller puts it, ” the cycle of the seasons of the year, the cycle of the stages of human life, and the cycle of the cultural phases of civilization.” (Bloom 59) In Miller’s essay he states that in “The first book of My Antonia, The Shimerdas, introduces from the start the drama of time in the vivid accounts of the shifting seasons..portraying the terrible struggle for mere existence in the bleakness of the plains’ winter, dramatizing the return of life with the arrival of spring, and concluding with the promise of a rich harvest in the intense heat of the prairie’s summer. This is Jim Burden’s remembered year, and it is his obsession with the cycle of time that has caused him to recall Antonia in a setting of the changing seasons.” (Miller 55) Book one, “The Shimerda’s”, introduce the beginning of two cyclical themes.
One of which is the cycle of the seasons of the year, which begins in the narrators’/Jims’ mind in the autumn when the Shimerdas move to Nebraska, the winter when Mr. Shimerda commits suicide, then spring followed the death of Mr. Shimerda, and finally summer in the cyclical theme of the seasons of the year which created another cyclical pattern within itself. This imbedded cyclical theme is on the stages of life is based on the fact that Antonia moves into adulthood while Jim stays as a child as stated by Kim Wells. (Wells 1) This happens because in the section the hired girls Antonia moves into the city from the farm where she used to live. The movement from a rural to an urban area made Antonia mature quicker so she would be able to survive in the city. While on the other hand Jim leaves the farm to go to college, in which inclosing walls unlike that of Antonia protects him.
Then Antonia moves into adulthood with a marriage and birth while Jim is at college toiling on the prospect of adult love with Lena Lingred. Finally, Jim moves into an odd marriage and then goes back to the farm with Antonia and her children. In the novel the reader encounters the impression that Jim is more closely alike to the children in maturity than that of the maturity of Antonia. “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 movement by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in common things.” (Cather 261) In this we see Jim’s feeling of incompleteness while on the other hand Antonia is an adult with a worn body and a spirit which is there unlike that of Jim’s spirit which appears lost even though his body looks new. The theme that life is a cycle in My Antonia is also supported by Harold Bloom’s comment, “It is in the dramatization of Antonia from the girlhood of the opening pages through her physical flowering in the middle books to, finally, her reproduction of the race in a flock of fine boys in the final pages of the book that her life it represented..as a cycle in its stages of birth, growth, fruition and decline. ” (Bloom 54-55) In which he describes how Antonia went from girlhood in the beginning of the novel to her regression back into childhood.
Even though the regression is usually seen in Jim Burden going “home to [him] self.” (Cather 273) The fact that Jim is going back to Antonia is like going home to his childhood. It is at that moment that he realizes that Antonia’s and his love does not depend on physical proximity. “The fittest place to talk to each other.” (Cather 239) Also in coming back to his psychological childhood he asks Antonia, ” ‘I’d have liked to have you for a sweetheart, or a wife, or my mother or my sister–anything that a woman can be to a man.'” (Cather 240) The end of the novel is also without a circle. The completion of the novel has a literal homecoming and completion of the circle. This circle is when Jim Burden goes back to the road with which the novel began, and ending as it began in the autumn of the year.
An even greater importance is Jim’s sense of returning to an awareness of the deep sources of his life, as symbolized in his childhood, in the land, and in Antonia. “The feelings of that night were so near that I could reach out and touch them with my hand. I had the sense of coming home to myself, and of having found out what a little circle man’s experience is.” (Cather 273) Every writer has been criticized in the past. The future will hold the same thing for them, whether it is a brutalizing and/or ad moralizing pen. Willa Cather’s novel, My Antonia, is one of hundreds of thousands of novels, poems, and etc.
of literary works, which are criticized. The critics that criticize the novel, My Antonia, all explain the fact that the novel has a very loose structure or none at all. With that in mind they also explain that the only literary technique, which was used in the novel, that holds the whole novel together is the constant cyclical themes. These themes are the cycle of the stages of human life, the cycle of the seasons of the year, and the cycle of the cultural phases of civilization. Bibliography Mayell, Frank.
American Literature: Realism to 1945. Pasadua: Salem Press inc., 1981 Bloom, Harold. Modern Critical Views: Willa Cather. New York: Chelsea House Publisher, 1985. Wells, Kim. Domestic Goddesses.
August 23, 1999. Online. Internet. November 4, 1998.