Psychoanalytic Criticism of My Antonia
Abstract: This essay uses psychoanalysis as the strategy of interpretation to read Willa Cather's My Antonia. Freud's well-known theory--the Oedipus complex--and Lacan's theory of the Mirror Stage are used as the modes of approaching the novel.
I use psychoanalytic criticism as a means of interpreting Willa Cather's My Antonia because I find some similarities between My Antonia and Peter Pan, between that and The Awakening when reading Keith Green's Critical Theory and Practice: A Coursebook.
In the light of Freud's Oedipus complex, like Peter Pan who sees Windy as a lover and mother, and who develops his sexual identity through this complex, Jim Burden also has a mother-like lover, Antonia, and finally comes to take his sexualized and gendered identity in this world. In the view of Lacan's Mirror Stage, like Edna Pontellier who wishes to return to her childhood memory, to return to the world of the Imaginary, in which "sometimes I feel this summer as if I were walking through the green meadow again; idly, aimlessly, unthinking and unguided" (Chopin 520), Jim Burden recollects his boyhood living in the great midland plain of North America where he feels he and Nature are one, but, unlike Edna who goes back and does not come back, Jim goes into the realm of the Imaginary and comes back to the Symbolic, experiencing the process of the Mirror Stage. These are the reasons why I try to apply psychoanalysis in the interpretation of the novel. General ideas will be given after the summery of the novel.
Willa Cather's My Antonia begins with Jim Burden's "an interminable journey across the great prairie of North America" (Cather 5), a journey back to a dream-like world. An orphan, Jim is sent to his grandparents, who lives in Nebraska, and there he feels that he seems to walk into a paradise of nature. He and Antonia, a neighbor girl, enjoy the ecstasy which nature can afford to them. And he develops a profound affection with Antonia. Moreover, he feels the happiness of being "dissolved into something complete and great" (Cather 14). It shows Jim's intimate relation with nature. However, seasons change. "When boys and girls are growing up, life can't stand still . . . . They have to grow up, whether they will or no" (Cather 124). So when Jim is old enough to go to high school, the Burden family moves to a nearby town, Black Hawk. Jim says good-bye to childhood and nature, but, when Antonia also comes to town as a helper for the Harlings, he still keeps a close relation with Antonia. However, one night in order to protect Antonia from Wick Cutter's sexual attack, Jim sleeps in Antonia's bed and is attacked by Mr. Cutter. He is frightened and runs away. Having finished the studies in high school, Jim makes another journey moving from Black Hawk to Lincoln to receive college education. There not only nature but also Antonia seems to him so far away, but Jim misses...