Study Guide

My Ántonia Youth

By Willa Cather


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My Ántonia is as much a coming of age story as any other genre. Protagonist Jim Burden begins the novel as a ten-year-old boy and the story follows his character through adolescence, college, and into adulthood. As readers we watch Jim grow up on the prairie in more ways than one, and the general tone toward youth seems to be one of nostalgia. Jim develops ideas about manhood and learns what it means to suffer and withstand. He learns about friendship and later about romance. Cather seems to parallel Jim's own coming of age with that of the country. In fact Jim notes when the novel begins that the plains of Nebraska are the stuff of which countries are made. It's likely that Cather modeled Jim's fictional youth on her own youth in Nebraska. She bases many of the characters and places in the story on real-life models from her own experiences.

Questions About Youth

  1. What specific incidents mark milestones in Jim's coming of age?
  2. Ántonia is older than Jim when the novel begins. What part does their age difference play in their relationship?
  3. How does Cather integrate the thoughts of the older Jim who is telling the story with the younger Jim character? When are they at odds?

Chew on This

Jim's character is never typical of his age group throughout the novel.

Jim's coming-of-age is made parallel with the country's own coming-of-age with regard to the American West.