Study Guide

My Ántonia Passivity

By Willa Cather


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My Ántonia upsets many traditional gender exceptions, but one in particular is the expectation that men be active, decisive characters. The novel's narrator and arguable protagonist, Jim Burden, is fairly passive, weak, and indecisive on several levels. When it comes to love, he seems not to know what he feels about whom, and is unwilling to act on it anyway. While the novel's title character, a woman, works out in the fields like a man, Jim studies indoors. When faced with uncomfortable situations, he tends to run away (literally or figuratively). He even lets twenty years go by while he hesitates about visiting the woman he claims he loved. Jim and his passivity work alongside the specific traits of other characters to upset gender stereotypes of all kind.

Questions About Passivity

  1. Why is Jim so passive?
  2. Find some examples of places in the novel where Jim is a man of action instead of passivity. What causes these moments of action?
  3. What is the relationship between masculinity and passivity in this novel? Is Jim less manly because of his passive nature?
  4. Can you find any passive female characters in this novel?
  5. Compare Jim's masculinity to that of other male characters in the novel. Are there any "men of action" to be found here?

Chew on This

Passivity is presented as a negative character trait in My Ántonia.

Passivity is presented as a positive character trait in My Ántonia.