My Antonia

Jeff Davis
Period C
Honors Lit 10

A Persistence of Memory

“The memory's wiles are cruel. In its silence, we forget. And in its perversion, it binds our hearts firmly.”
-Vexen, Kingdom Hearts by Daisuke Watanabe

          Over the course of Willa Cather’s novel My Antonia, published in 1918, the past is seen through a blurred and fragmented perspective. Jim Burden remembers his youth with an unrealistic fondness that may not be echoed by the other figures in his childhood. His version of events lays great emphasis on the quiet dignity of prairie life, but glosses over the hardships that his neighbors experienced. When Jim looks back, he sees what he wants to see, much as an old man talks about the “good ole’ days”, when those days often aren’t worth the praise they receive. Jim then seeks any connection with his childhood life with almost obsessive fervor. This interpretation of prairie life, coupled with dissatisfaction with his own existence, leads to Jim’s growing fixation with the past.
          Jim’s preoccupation with the Nebraskan countryside and the lifestyle that comes with it began when he first left Black Hawk. For a while he enjoys being on his own, content to study and explore the academic world. The only person with whom he connects is Gaston Cleric, his professor who he also considers his superior, so their relationship is not nearly as close as one with someone he might see as his equal. This lack of significant relationships causes him to become intensely nostalgic of his childhood. The nostalgia he is experiencing serves as an anchor for him, so he can endure through his day to day life: “But whenever my consciousness was quickened, all those early friends were quickened within it, and in some strange way they accompanied me through all my new experiences” (125). He yearns for “the ole’ days” and this, while keeping him emotionally stable, distances him from society and disables him from functioning successfully within it....