Willa Cather, the author of My Antonia, depicts the humankind’s irresistible relationship to the past as she illustrates Jim’s wistful memoir of his childhood. While Jim’s pursuit for his past facilitates deeper meaning to his life by providing beautiful reminiscence, his perpetual chase for past moment, at the same time, stagnates his personal development. As Cather quotes that “some memories are realities,” she conveys an idea that people’s relationship with their memories is so intimate that one’s life can be molded, twisted, shattered, and mended by his or her past experiences.
In My Antonia, Jim relies heavily on his past memories. Jim’s first encounter with Antonia in Nebraskan prairie comes as a predestined fate, and they continue to build up their extraordinary relationship. Soon, Antonia confronts her limitation in the development of her social status as an immigrant while Jim continues to follow the ...view middle of the document...
Thereby, Cather attests to the power of memory through the illustration of Jim’s reflective reminiscence.
On the other hand, Jim’s inclination to stubbornly rely on his past limited his personal development. As he recites his youth, he overly romanticizes his temporary residence in countryside as the most ideal time in his life. Despite his elevated social status, his exaggerated recreation of past testifies to the fact that his mind still resides in his childhood moment. Another evidence that he tries to grasp his unapproachable past memory is revealed when Jim meets Antonia after 20 years. When Jim visits Antonia, Antonia’s daughter welcomes him and offers him a chair to sit. Then Jim illustrates the situation as this: “Before I could sit down in the chair she 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.” At this point, Jim hints that although 20 years of decade has passed and Antonia became an incongruous person to him, Jim still has his beautified affection towards Antonia. Jim cherishes the illusion that he loves Antonia, but his affection, in fact, is merely a product of his inability to withdraw of his embellished memory and his lack of confidence to face the reality that is different from his memory. Thereby, on one side Jim’s memory has limited his own individual development.
In 20th century America where Social Darwinism was the most prominent ideology, the difference in social status was one of the biggest obstacles that thwarted people’s integration. In My Antonia, however, memory was the driving force that overpowers such social prejudice and sustains the relationship between a respected lawyer and a poor immigrant. From this book, we cannot simply judge whether Jim’s memory posed positive or negative effect to anyone but the impact of his memory definitely was more profound than a mere wistful recollection. Memory has an enormous impact on how our individual and cultural identities are shaped. In our life, memories still intertwine different people and make us strive to live on our memory.