Memory and History in Willa Cather's My Antonia

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Willa Cather’s My Anthonia, in my opinion was not only easy to read but also a thoroughly enjoyable read. It tells the vivid stories of several immigrant families who move to the rural state of Nebraska to start new lives in America. A Bohemian family, by the name of the Shimerdas, is one of the main focal points of the story. The eldest daughter of the Shimerda family is named Antonia. The book's narrator, Jim Burden, arrives in the town of Black Hawk, Nebraska, on the same train as the Shimerdas. He is going to live with his grandparents after his parents have passed away. Jim develops very strong feelings for Antonia, feelings which border on a filial bond with a hint of sexual attraction. The reader views Antonia's life through that lens. The book itself is divided into five volumes. The volumes are almost paralleled to the stages of Antonia's life, right through her marriage and motherhood. However, the third volume, known as, "Lena Lingard," focuses more on Jim's time at university and his affair with Lena, another childhood friend of his and Antonia's. The five books, that make up My Antonia are, ‘‘The Shimerdas’’, which is the largest book of all. It covers all of the time that Jim spends on his grandparent’s farm out on the prairie. ‘’The Hired Girls’’, which is the second largest. ‘’The Hired Girls’’ covers Jim's time in town, where he spends time with Anthonia and the other country girls who work in town. In this book, language and descriptions become more sexualised, particularly concerning females in the form of Anthonia and Lena. The aforementioned ‘’Lena Lingard’’ chronicles Jim's time at the university, and the period in which he becomes reacquainted with Lena Lingard. ‘‘The Pioneer Woman's Story’’, in this Jim visits the Harlings, and hears about Anthonia's run-in and indeed her fateful romance with Larry Donovan. Finally ‘’Cuzak's Boys’’ where Jim goes to visit Antonia and meets her new family, her children and her husband. ‘’Cuzak’s Boys’’ is the shortest book of all. In relation to the question, both history and memory play a major role in each of these five books.

When dealing with a question such as this, one must be exceedingly cautious indeed. One must highlight that history and memory are two very different things. History is concrete, history is objective, history aims towards objectivity whereas memory is selective. Thus memory cannot be trusted, the very fact that Burden speaks in first person narrative, cannot be trusted either. Burden is selective in his memorisation. When one is being nostalgic memory is almost always portrayed in a more favorable light than the present. Cliché’s such as, ‘the good aul’ days and ‘rose tinted glasses’ both spring to mind, and in my opinion this is no different in My Anthonia. The prefix ‘My’ in the front of Antonia is very interesting indeed, it has an impact on the Jim Burden we meet in the story, it has an impact on the entire story. If this ‘My’ was omitted from the title, we would have a very different story on our hands. My Antonia is always personal, characters throughout never look back toward departed eras or large-scale historical conditions, but they look back toward their personal circumstances, personal circumstances such as places, people, things, that they remember from their own lives.

‘’The well-preserved garden, full of flowers and vegetables, assures him that humans, when they die, "become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge". Book 1, Chapter 2, page14.

As a result, a character’s emotions are destined to colour his or her memories for the rest of his or her life. This fact is made clear by Jim’s decision to call his memoir, “My Antonia” rather than simply “Antonia." In thus laying claim to Antonia, Jim acknowledges that what he is really writing is simply a chronicle of his own thoughts and feelings.

‘’Jim realises that Antonia...
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