Study Guide

My Ántonia Love

By Willa Cather


"My father, he went much to school. He know a great deal; how to make the fine cloth like what you not got here. He play horn and violin, and he read so many books that the priests in Bohemia come to talk to him. You won't forget my father, Jim?" (1.17.16)

After Mr. Shimerda's death, we start to see that Jim is as important to Ántonia as Ántonia is to Jim. But, just as we are uncertain of the nature of Jim's feelings for Ántonia, we are similarly left in the dark as to Ántonia's feelings for Jim.

They were growing prettier every day, but as they passed us, I used to think with pride that Ántonia, like Snow-White in the fairy tale, was still 'fairest of them all.' (2.12.1-2)

This is an interesting reaction on Jim's part – notice that he's already taking a sort of ownership over Ántonia. He feels pride in thinking that she is the prettiest of the hired girls; not attraction or jealousy. It's almost like she's his sister or his daughter.

I used to wish I could have dreams like this about Ántonia, but I never did. (2.12.32)

It's as though Jim cannot reconcile his sexual attractions with his romantic attractions. So he uses Lena as the target of the former and reserves the latter for Ántonia. That he wishes he could feel the same way about Ántonia is telling of a deeper level of understanding on his part

If she was proud of me, I was so proud of her that I carried my head high as I emerged from the dark cedars and shut the Cutters` gate softly behind me. Her warm, sweet face, her kind arms, and the true heart in her; she was, oh, she was still my Ántonia! (2.12.37)

What does Jim mean when he uses the phrase "my Ántonia"? Is it a sense of possession he feels? Or something different altogether?

"Mercy, it's hot!" Lena yawned. She was supine under a little oak, resting after the fury of her elder-hunting, and had taken off the high-heeled slippers she had been silly enough to wear. "Come here, Jim. You never got the sand out of your hair." She began to draw her fingers slowly through my hair.

Ántonia pushed her away. "You'll never get it out like that," she said sharply. (2.14.27)

It looks like Ántonia is a bit jealous. This is one of several instances where we see Ántonia forcefully separate Lena and Jim. Is she just looking out for Jim's best interests, or does she want him for herself?

Whenever we rode over in that direction we saw [Lena] out among her cattle, bareheaded and barefooted, scantily dressed in tattered clothing, always knitting as she watched her herd. Before I knew Lena, I thought of her as something wild, that always lived on the prairie, because I had never seen her under a roof. Her yellow hair was burned to a ruddy thatch on her head; but her legs and arms, curiously enough, in spite of constant exposure to the sun, kept a miraculous whiteness which somehow made her seem more undressed than other girls who went scantily lad. The first time I stopped to talk to her, I was astonished at her soft voice and easy, gentle ways. (2.4.38)

It's interesting that Lena and Ántonia both had similar childhoods, but Lena's sexuality and femininity is so much more pronounced than Ántonia's. Jim's reaction to these two girls is, subsequently, different.

We all liked Tony's stories. Her voice had a peculiarly engaging quality; it was deep, a little husky, and one always heard the breath vibrating behind it. Everything she said seemed to come right out of her heart. (2.6.6)

Jim's feelings for Ántonia are revealed in the oddest of places. In the details of his descriptions of her life hints of a deeper emotion.

She looked bold and resourceful and unscrupulous, and she was all of these. They were handsome girls, had the fresh colour of their country upbringing, and in their eyes that brilliancy which is called-- by no metaphor, alas!--`the light of youth.` (2.7.30)

Jim recognizes that much of the vigor and appeal of Ántonia lies in the fact that she is young. How is it, then, that his feelings for her remain strong as she grows older?

Lena had brought them all back to me. It came over me, as it had never done before, the relation between girls like those and the poetry of Virgil. If there were no girls like them in the world, there would be no poetry. I understood that clearly, for the first time. This revelation seemed to me inestimably precious. I clung to it as if it might suddenly vanish. (3.2.31)

It's easy to characterize Jim's feelings for Ántonia as purely chaste and his feelings for Lena are purely sexual – but this is clearly not the case. Jim's feelings for Lena run deep indeed, and often seem more romantic than sexual.

I tried to shut Ántonia out of my mind. I was bitterly disappointed in her. I could not forgive her for becoming an object of pity. (4.1.5)

Again, it sounds like Ántonia is a sister or a daughter to Jim, not an object of romantic or sexual affection. The nature of his feelings for her is cryptic indeed.