The Use of Parallels and Imagery in My Antonia
My Antonia, by Willa Cather, is a book tracing the story of a young man, Jim Burden, and his relationship with a young woman, Antonia Shimerda. Jim narrates the entire story in first person, relating accounts and memories of his childhood with Antonia. He traces his coming to the Nebraska where he and Antonia meet and grow up. Jim looks back on all of his childhood scenes with Antonia with nearly heartbreaking nostalgia. My Antonia, is a book that makes many parallels to the sadness and frailty, but also the quiet beauty in life, and leaves the reader with a sense of profound sorrow. One of the main ways Cather is able to invoke these emotions in the reader is through the ongoing theme of inevitable destiny and separation.
Cather sets the tone of the story at the very beginning, a young Jim Burden's parents have died leaving him to go to Nebraska to live with his grandparents. Right from the start Cather plants the seeds of abandonment, with the finality of death, in Jim's life. When he arrives in Nebraska he is very numb to life, but he is soon caught up in daily life on his grandparents farm. He is blissfully happy when he first meets Antonia. They become great friends and share numerous adventures.
Cather uses brief, beautifully descriptive and nostalgic recollections of situations and feelings to increase the pain and sadness of the separations that she places throughout the book. An excellent example of this is the way Cather builds up to Mr. Shimerda's suicide.
Mrs. Cather describes Antonia's love and strong bond with her father. Antonia talks of how much he loved the old country, how much he wanted to stay there and live among his friends. She describes the beautiful relationship of her father and a trombone player and how much her father had cried and pleaded with Antonia's mother to stay in the old country. Out of love and duty, Antonia's father had given up everything he loved for his family. This builds the reader up to hoping that maybe the father can again be happy in the America, that maybe everything will be fine. Then he kills himself. An abrupt and incredibly sad and poignant parting. The trend of parting is beginning to be associated with the finality of death.
Another way Cather expresses the inevitability of these separations is through the changing seasons. In summer everyone in the story is happy and Cather uses beautiful, descriptive imagery that brings to life a world that is alive and wonderful. Inevitably though, summer is followed by the...