My Antonia


A psychoanalytical look into Jim^Òs search for a parent in
contrast to the importance of the introduction. Willa Cather,
"My Antonia."

 In ^ÓMy Antonia^Ô we notice there is more going on in this
novel than just what is apparent immediately. Based on that
assumption I made the realization that a simple regurgitation of
facts would not be sufficient in order to explain the story
behind the story. A psychoanalytical look at the characters will
give a better understanding of action vs. intent of each
individual, particularly Jim Burden and his unconscious desires
and needs. The introduction prepares the reader for what he/she
is getting into by laying out a profile of Jim. Without the
understanding of the origin of the novel the reader would not be
able to asses the true meaning of the novel nor would they really
grasp the concepts and issues that are being discussed through
the story itself. So, with this essay I will bring together the
importance of the introduction and how it correlates to Jim^Òs
search for a parental role. 
 Jim Burden is one of the more complex characters that any
one reader will ever encounter. His abandonment issues and just
his whole childhood read like a case study that a psychologist
would write up on an extremely troubled child. 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. 

 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 them all and awaits a return to her. Before going
to Harvard, Jim goes back to his home town and pays a visit to
Antonia. After this brief visit to his country home, Jim goes to
Harvard for advanced study and does not return until about twenty
years after. The middle-age Jim goes back to the scenes of his
childhood, and sees an aged Antonia. A battered 
woman replacing a lovely girl, Jim sees for the first time
Antonia's real identity rather than his ideal image of her. To
Jim, Antonia has become "a rich mine of life, like the founder of
early races" (Cather 227). Jim's literal journey into the great
prairie of North America serves a metaphorical vehicle for an
interior journey in a quest for his lost early self and his
proper spiritual home when he is sent to his grandparents at the
age often. And this journey into a dream-like land seems to be a
return to his lost world, the realm of the Imaginary before the
coming of the Symbolic Order.
 Jim's journey into the great prairie of North America might
be seen as the reunion of Mother and Child--the return to one's
origins, the memory of childhood experience. These main features
of the Imaginary as unification and gratification dominate the
whole atmosphere of Jim's sense of his childhood. For example,
during the long night drive to his grandparents' home on the
wagon, Jim "had the feeling that the world was left behind, that
we had got over the edge of it, as were outside man's
jurisdiction" (Cather 8). Leaving Man's world behind, he seems to
go into another world and becomes dissolved into it because
"Between that earth and that sky I felt erased, blotted out"
(Cather 8). What's more, lying on a warm yellow pumpkin in the
middle of the garden, Jim gains a sense that 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. (Cather 14) 
 The introduction is a prelude to all of these internal
situations that are evident in the novel. The feeling that is
conveyed through the introduction is one that leans very heavily
on the fact that Jim sees Antonia as much more than a friend but
more so as a mother. In the novel, since Jim is an orphan, he
sees both Nature and Antonia as his mother. At the very beginning
of the story when Jim starts his journey in search for a new
mother, Jim says, I was ten years old then; I had lost both my
father and mother within a year, and my Virginia relatives were
sending me out to my grandparents, who lived in Nebraska. . . .
we set out together to try our fortunes in a new
world. (Cather 5) This new world is the Mother Earth, still and
dark. The great earth seduces Jim to come to her embrace, to come
to her womb; he feels that the grass was the country, as the
water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the
great prairie the colour of wine-stains, or of certain seaweed^Òs
when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in
it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be
running. (Cather 12) On the other hand, Jim's affection with
Antonia is more like that between child and mother. In his brief
meeting with Antonia, he says, Do you know, Antonia, since I've
been away, I think of you more often than of anyone else
in this part of the world. I'd have liked to have you for a
sweetheart, or a wife, or my mother or my sister--anything that a
woman can be to a man. The idea of you is a part
of my mind; you influence my likes and dislikes, all my tastes,
hundreds of times when I don't realize it. You really are a
part of me. (Cather 206) However, the child's fantasy of
possessing the mother must be stopped, and he must adjust himself
to be identified with the father. The scene of Jim's attack by
Cutter on Antonia's bed might be interpreted as forbidding his
transgression of social taboos. He finds himself "running across
the north end of Black Hawk in my night-shirt, just as one
sometimes finds one's self behaving in bad dream" (Cather 158).
After then, he feels he never want to see Antonia again; and he
hates her as much as he hates Cutter. The interaction and
confusion that is based in this mother child relationship causes
a lapse of contact between Jim and Antonia. As we learn from the
introduction it took a long period before Jim could regain a
relationship with Antonia. 
 Seeing as how the novel was written from the
perspective of this man with numerous problems psychologically
one can see the metamorphosis of Jim and his development from
childhood with all the idealistic theories that accompany it to
adulthood in which the realization of the truth is a concept
that he must accept and comprehend before he is able to
successfully develop any further. This transformation that
occurs naturally in all people was described in a severe fashion
as it applies to a young boy that was orphaned and desperately in
search of parental figures, revealing to the reader the
mother/child relationship with Antonia and also the significance
of the introduction to this novel. The introduction is set up as
to provide some insight into what the psychological state of Jim
Burden is. Conclusively one can see that Jim Burden used Antonia
as a mother figure throughout his life and with the information
given by the introduction we can better correlate the actions of
the Jim character in the novel and his unconscious feelings and
emotions about Antonia. 


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