Power of the Frontier Exposed in My Antonia
Willa Cather's novel My Ántonia dramatizes the effect the frontier has on both native-born people and immigrants that come to the West in search of new beginnings. The story centers around two families living in a remote area of Nebraska from completely diverse backgrounds. This tale suggests that regardless of where a person comes from, the trials and tribulations of living under such tough conditions will ultimately impact his/her future existence. Cather's characters, no matter the age or heritage, are continuously re-defined, as if reborn, into a new life by surviving the harsh realities of the frontier. Much of the creation of these characters takes place in the very first book of the story, with the middle books only showing the individuals sense of disconnection from the land from which they've come to make their living. They either love the frontier life, or they seek to escape it and create a new life for themselves elsewhere. The final book reunites the two main characters, Jim and Ántonia, and brings them full circle: back to the place where it all began.
Jim Burden's trip at ten years old embarks, due to the death of his mother and father, from Virginia to Nebraska and marks a turning point in his life. Jim's journey takes him on a very long train ride in which he notices "The only thing very noticeable about Nebraska was that it was still, all day long, Nebraska" (6). He is utterly engulfed in this new landscape and the vastness of it. He goes on to say that "there was nothing but land; not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made" (7). This statement leads us to wonder if Cather is also referring to the making of the people that live in this "material". The first clear reference of Jim's re-birth, or making, is upon his arrival in Black Hawk in which they are "surrounded by utter darkness" which symbolizes how it must be to be in the womb (6). As he lies down to sleep that night, he is overwhelmed by his new surroundings and thinks to himself that "between that earth and that sky I felt erased, blotted out. I did not say my prayers that night; here, I felt, what would be would be" as if he is completely surrendering himself to his new environment (8). But this feeling of helplessness doesn't last long and Jim quickly begins to embrace his new surroundings. His visit to his Grandmother's garden is a point in which we see Jim begin his transformation to his new self
I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep. (14)
Linda Pickle, in her...