Relationship of the Past in My Antonia
“Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again”; this quote by Willa Cather expresses the relationship that the past can have on humans. Some would argue that the past has no role in My Antonia, almost as if the overall lesson of the novel had gone right over their head. Willa Cather has written the whole novel in flashback form, and this has a great effect on the reader. She is trying to show that you can learn from your past, if you grasp what you can, while you have the ability to do so. She adopts a very Thoreau-like outlook on life; “Carpe diem”.
The narrator of the novel, Jim Burden, relies heavily on the past. This can be seen many times in the book, but occurs most eloquently in what seemed to be the most nostalgic passage of the novel. “I thought about your papa when I wrote my speech, Tony” (page 146). Jim says this to Antonia, and she responds by throwing her arms around him, with her eyes full of tears. This shows that some characters in the novel live more in the past, than others. Not only because Jim uses the past to rouse emotions in the audience at his commencement, he was looking for a specific reaction out of the girls, and he got the reaction he was looking for. Another key piece of nostalgic emotion lies in chapter one of Cuzak’s Boys. Jim had promised “Tony” (Antonia) that he would come back to visit her, but it takes twenty years before his busy life schedule allows him to do so. He is welcomed by Antonia’s daughter in the kitchen, while waiting for Antonia to arrive. “Before I could sit down in the chair she (Antonia’s daughter) offered me, the miracle happened; one of those quiet moments that clutch the heart, and take more courage than the noisy, excited passages in life” (page 213). This passage shows that Jim still has feelings for Antonia, though she is now married and has six children. They spend much time reminiscing about...
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