My Ántonia takes the form of a fictional memoir, told by adult Jim Burden looking back on his youth in the American West around the turn of the 19th century. In this case, the form (memoir) is the perfect instrument for the novel's attitude toward the past – an attitude of nostalgia. Jim's attitude towards his own past is matched by the attitude of the memoir's characters toward their own respective pasts. The immigrants, for example, look back longingly at the days "back home" in their old countries. The past is presented as something to be longed for, but never regained. The novel's epigraph – "the best days are the first to flee" – perhaps reflects this feeling best.
Jim's tendency to live in the past is an example of his passivity; it is presented as a negative character trait.
Jim's tendency to live in the past represents his appreciation for beauty and love; it is presented as a positive character trait.