My Antonia

Topics: Willa Cather, Nebraska, Agriculture Pages: 5 (1612 words) Published: November 16, 2014
My Ántonia: The Natural Changes in Willa Cather’s Work My Ántonia, a novel by Willa Cather, is written in the account of Jim Burden, a fictional character who resembles Cather in a lot of ways. Being born in Virginia but grew up in Nebraska, Willa Cather is famous for her works about life on the Great Plains of the Mid-West. This story, supposedly written by Jim, is set in the stage of westward migration in the mid-late 1800s, and tells Jim’s experience as a child growing up in Black Hawk, Nebraska. As Cather said in her later years: “that shaggy grass country had gripped me with a passion I have never been able to shake. It has been the happiness and the curse of my life.” her childhood memories, represented by the Nebraskan landscape, have always been an indelible part of her. In commemorating her own memories, Cather artistically incorporates details of the Nebraskan landscape into different stages of Jim and Ántonia’s lives. In My Ántonia, Willa Cather employs the varying features of the Nebraskan prairie as representations of the changes in Jim Burden’s character, thus highlighting Jim’s romanticism on the fleeting past. The red grass of the Nebraskan prairie, a sign of the pristineness of the prairie and a symbol of Jim’s innocence, has gradually faded into the skyscrapers of New York City. When Jim first comes to the countryside of Black Hawk, the prairie is completely wild and pristine, just like Jim’s innocence as a child. Willa Cather writes: “Everywhere, as far as the eye could reach, there was nothing but rough, shaggy, red grass, most of it as tall as I” (Cather 17). The red grass, a physical sign of the richness of the soil, is everywhere when Jim first arrives in Black Hawk, suggesting that the land has not been cultivated by human, but is still rather pristine and wild. By comparing Jim with the red grass, Cather implies that Jim’s personality is not yet is influenced and shaped by the people around him, that he is just as pure as this boundless, utterly red prairie. Unfortunately, before long, humans start cultivating the prairie and the red grass has to give way to men’s daily activities, and the red grass have to be restricted, just like how Jim’s personality changed. In an incident where Jim “calmly” kills a rattlesnake and becomes Ántonia’s hero, the influence of the nature, symbolized by the rattlesnake, forced Jim to act like an adult in order to protect himself and Ántonia. Before this incident, Cather foreshadows the incident with a description of the red grass: “The grass had been nibbled short and even, so this stretch was not shaggy and red like the surrounding country, but grey and velvety.” (38) By showing that the red grass is forced to give way to farmland, Cather indicates that the loss of Jim’s innocence, a result of his approaching adulthood, is similar to the fading of red grass. As Jim leaves Black Hawk, Ántonia, and every piece of his childhood, he marries a wealthy woman whom he does not love, lives in New York City, works as the “legal counsel for one of the great Western railways.” (1). The wealthy mature Jim recollects Mr. Shimerda’s funeral through a series of description of the landscape. The contrast of the prevalence of the red grass in time is especially significant in this passage: “Years afterward, when the open-grazing days were over, and the red grass had been ploughed under and under until it had almost disappeared from the prairie” (90) Here, “the open-grazing days” implies his early happy wild childhood with Ántonia and his other friends when they run around Black Hawk and enjoy the open prairie. The red grass, in correspondence, symbolizes his innocence, which “had been ploughed under” by all the ordinariness of his adult life. The red grass on the prairie had always been one of the most important views for Jim Burden because of its connection to his innocence, which is lost through the routineness of his life. The roads, straight, rigid lines for the human needs,...
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