My Antonia Essay Research Paper A psychoanalytical

My Antonia Essay, Research Paper

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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