My Antonia Essay

My Antonia Essay

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A psychoanalytical look into Jim^s search for a parent in contrast to the importance of the introduction. Willa Cather, "My Antonia." In ^My Antonia^ we notice there is more going on in this novel than just what is apparent immediately. Based on that assumption I made the realization that a simple regurgitation of facts would not be sufficient in order to explain the story behind the story. A psychoanalytical look at the characters will give a better understanding of action vs. intent of each individual, particularly Jim Burden and his unconscious desires and needs. The introduction prepares the reader for what he/she is getting into by laying out a profile of Jim. Without the understanding of the origin of the novel the reader would not be able to asses the true meaning of the novel nor would they really grasp the concepts and issues that are being discussed through the story itself. So, with this essay I will bring together the importance of the introduction and how it correlates to Jim^s search for a parental role. Jim Burden is one of the more complex characters that any one reader will ever encounter. His abandonment issues and just his whole childhood read like a case study that a psychologist would write up on an extremely troubled child. Jim Burden also has a mother-like lover, Antonia, and finally comes to take his sexualized and gendered identity in this world. In the view of Lacan's Mirror Stage, like Edna Pontellier who wishes to return to her childhood memory, to return to the world of the Imaginary, in which "sometimes I feel this summer as if I were walking through the green meadow again ;idly, aimlessly, unthinking and unguided" (Chopin 520), Jim Burden recollects his boyhood living in the great midland plain of North America where he feels he and Nature are one, but, unlike Edna who goes back and does not come back, Jim goes into the realm of the Imaginary and comes back to the Symbolic, experiencing the process of the Mirror Stage. These are the reasons why I try to apply psychoanalysis in the interpretation of the novel. Willa Cather's My Antonia begins with Jim Burden's "an interminable journey across the great prairie of North America" (Cather 5), a journey back to a dream-like world. An orphan, Jim is sent to his grandparents, who lives in Nebraska, and there he feels that he seems to walk into a paradise of nature. He and Antonia, a neighbor girl, enjoy the ecstasy which nature can afford to them. And he develops a profound affection with Antonia. Moreover, he feels the happiness of being "dissolved into something complete and great" (Cather 14). It shows Jim's intimate relation with nature. However, seasons change. "When boys and girls are growing up, life can't stand still . . . . They have to grow up, whether they will or no" (Cather 124). So when Jim is old enough to go to high school, the Burden family moves to a nearby town, Black Hawk. Jim says good-bye to childhood and nature, but, when Antonia also comes to town as a helper for the Harlings, he still keeps a close relation with Antonia. However, one night in order to protect Antonia from Wick Cutter's sexual attack, Jim sleeps in Antonia's bed and is attacked by Mr. Cutter. He is frightened and runs away. Having finished the studies in high school, Jim makes another journey moving from Black Hawk to Lincoln to receive college education. There not only nature but also Antonia seems to him so far away, but Jim misses them all and awaits a return to her. Before going to Harvard, Jim goes back to his home town and pays a visit to Antonia. After this brief visit to his country home, Jim goes to Harvard for advanced study and does not return until about twenty years after. The middle-age Jim goes back to the scenes of his childhood, and sees an aged Antonia. A battered woman replacing a lovely girl, Jim sees for the first time Antonia's real identity rather than his ideal image of her. To Jim, Antonia has become "a rich mine of life, like the founder of early races" (Cather 227). Jim's literal journey into the great prairie of North America serves a metaphorical vehicle for an interior journey in a quest for his lost early self and his proper spiritual home when he is sent to his grandparents at the age often. And this journey into a dream-like land seems to be a return to his lost world, the realm of the Imaginary before the coming of the Symbolic Order. Jim's journey into the great prairie of North America might be seen as the reunion of Mother and Child--the return to one's origins, the memory of childhood experience. These main features of the Imaginary as unification and gratification dominate the whole atmosphere of Jim's sense of his childhood. For example, during the long night drive to his grandparents' home on the wagon, Jim "had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of it, as were outside man's jurisdiction" (Cather 8). Leaving Man's world behind, he seems to go into another world and becomes dissolved into it because "Between that earth and that sky I felt erased, blotted out" (Cather 8). What's more, lying on a warm yellow pumpkin in the middle of the garden, Jim gains a sense that I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness ;to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep. (Cather 14) The introduction is a prelude to all of these internal situations that are evident in the novel. The feeling that is conveyed through the introduction is one that leans very heavily on the fact that Jim sees Antonia as much more than a friend but more so as a mother. In the novel, since Jim is an orphan, he sees both Nature and Antonia as his mother. At the very beginning of the story when Jim starts his journey in search for a new mother, Jim says, I was ten years old then ;I had lost both my father and mother within a year, and my Virginia relatives were sending me out to my grandparents, who lived in Nebraska. . . . we set out together to try our fortunes in a new world. (Cather 5) This new world is the Mother Earth, still and dark. The great earth seduces Jim to come to her embrace, to come to her womb ;he feels that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of wine-stains, or of certain seaweed^s when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it ;the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running. (Cather 12) On the other hand, Jim's affection with Antonia is more like that between child and mother. In his brief meeting with Antonia, he says, Do you know, Antonia, since I've been away, I think of you more often than of anyone else in this part of the world. I'd have liked to have you for a sweetheart, or a wife, or my mother or my sister--anything that a woman can be to a man. The idea of you is a part of my mind ;you influence my likes and dislikes, all my tastes, hundreds of times when I don't realize it. You really are a part of me. (Cather 206) However, the child's fantasy of possessing the mother must be stopped, and he must adjust himself to be identified with the father. The scene of Jim's attack by Cutter on Antonia's bed might be interpreted as forbidding his transgression of social taboos. He finds himself "running across the north end of Black Hawk in my night-shirt, just as one sometimes finds one's self behaving in bad dream" (Cather 158). After then, he feels he never want to see Antonia again ;and he hates her as much as he hates Cutter. The interaction and confusion that is based in this mother child relationship causes a lapse of contact between Jim and Antonia. As we learn from the introduction it took a long period before Jim could regain a relationship with Antonia. Seeing as how the novel was written from the perspective of this man with numerous problems psychologically one can see the metamorphosis of Jim and his development from childhood with all the idealistic theories that accompany it to adulthood in which the realization of the truth is a concept that he must accept and comprehend before he is able to successfully develop any further. This transformation that occurs naturally in all people was described in a severe fashion as it applies to a young boy that was orphaned and desperately in search of parental figures, revealing to the reader the mother/child relationship with Antonia and also the significance of the introduction to this novel. The introduction is set up as to provide some insight into what the psychological state of Jim Burden is. Conclusively one can see that Jim Burden used Antonia as a mother figure throughout his life and with the information given by the introduction we can better correlate the actions of the Jim character in the novel and his unconscious feelings and emotions about Antonia.

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