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MY ANTONIA, An Empty Land with Hardships

Updated on April 16, 2012

Analysis of Jim's Character

The main theme of My Antonia is Jim Burden’s fascination with Antonia as she represents two things: first, she represents an alternative to his life as a middle-class boy. She breaks out of the boundaries of class and gender with seeming ease while he is constrained within them. Second, Antonia represents a close tie to the land. Jim loves the land, but is able to give it up for the successes of the city, while Antonia is happiest when closest to it.

It is the uniquely American desire to return to wilderness that fascinates Elizabeth Gilbert when examining the unique male identity portrayed in Eustace Conway. The American utopian communities of the 19th century America finds an expression in My Antonia as well as The Last American Man . Eustace Conway is a real character that fascinates Gilbert no more than readers of this work. He leaves his Comfortable American home at the young age of seventeen to move to into the Appalachian mountains and has continued to live there since.

Jim, in My Antonia , an orphan feels “there was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made” (P-12). Jim and Antonia, while on train don’t feel at home in this land, that initially makes them feel “erased, blotted out”. Larry Donovan is happy to use and abandon Antonia, as a lower class immigrant girl. Although Shimerdas hated Krajjek, they clung to him because he was the only human being with whom they could communicate. Antonia and the others were immigrants and had to work to support their families. The town-girls considered themselves refined and hated the country girls. However, a better future, an American dream united the immigrants. “…America big country, much money, much land for my boys, much husband for my girls…”.

The tragedy in My Antonia follows from hardships faced by immigrants. The experiences of the Shimerda family and the “hired” girls could well be compared to the challenges faced by immigrants even today: language barriers, prejudice, harsh conditions are just a few among others. Some of the immigrants overcome these barriers while the others may not be so fortunate as can be found in the two characters—Lena Lingard and Antonia. Shortly after Christmas, Shimerda family experiences their misery compounded as tragedy strikes with the suicide of Mr. Shimerda. What follows next is an emotional funeral, their retreat into despair, and the Burdens’ struggle to be as accommodating as possible.


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