Jim’s Story by Evan Donahue

Now that we have finished the novel, I have to ask if I was alone in feeling like there was something left unresolved with Jim, or if, like me, you saw the words “The End,” and still turned the page just to make sure it wasn’t some cruel joke. In our class discussions we have mentioned on multiple occasions how sometimes it really felt like Cather was going somewhere with a character or a particular anecdote, and then simply moved on to something new before we had much of a chance to explore said person/story. I personally enjoyed Cather’s style of writing, and thought her descriptions of characters and settings to be beautiful. I never necessarily expected anything major to happen plot-wise, but I was left confused by the utter lack of Jim’s development.

“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.” – Jim Burden, at the end of Chapter IV, Book IV.

If Antonia really did influence Jim’s likes and dislikes and his tastes, why didn’t we ever hear much about that? I was also surprised that the narrative skipped ahead twenty years like it was nothing, after which Antonia had been married, with eleven children, and Jim was still the same Jim. I understand that the novel is entitled “My Antonia” and not “My Jim,” but then why include so many chapters where Antonia was absent altogether? To me, Jim ended up just being a window into Antonia’s world, as opposed to a character on his own. But that leads to asking, why not make the story Antonia’s? Would you all have liked her to be the main character? I have to say, I think her perspective would have at least been more of a “story.” Do you think this has something to do with what we talked about last class, about Willa Cather possibly being a lesbian, and maybe the choice to have a male character observing Antonia from the outside had something to do with that?

 

-Evan D.

 

Advertisements

18 thoughts on “Jim’s Story by Evan Donahue

  1. I couldn’t agree more; that same empty feeling was on my mind immediately after finishing the novel. An adequate description for the final chapter still escapes me, probably because I cannot decide how exactly to judge Jim’s actions in the last book. From the very first time they met through their eventual reunion, I believe that Jim was in love with Antonia, though he does not admit that until the very end. More importantly, I believe that this feeling was mutual. There is something between the two main characters that defies easy explanation, that intangible “something” that makes love special. The fact that they were never able to act on it( or that Jim was never able to act, depending on how you look at it) is somewhat tragic to me. I cannot fight the feeling that Jim, and I may be reaching, regrets this inability to make a decisive action and take what should have been his. Notice that he recognizes Antonia the moment he laid eyes on her, while it took a second glance for her to do the same. Cather places special importance on the eyes throughout the novel. Antonia’s remained youthful and vibrant; though her appearence changed she remains the same person from beginning to end. I do not believe this to be true for Jim. Along the way, something in Jim Burden changed and he is left with the consequences. But for the life of me I can’t decide what that something is and, more importantly, how I am supposed to feel about it.

    Brenden

    • I didn’t think Jim had much of a story to begin with. He is the most unremarkable subject in the whole book. If the book was written from Antonia’s veiw and called ,”My Jim”, it would of never made the list of classics.
      -carolyn

    • I agree with the mutual feeling part of the whole book. I can really relate to how Jim may have felt and was not able to tell Antonia. The hidden feelings between the two was really what lead me to believe they would end up in some fairy tale. But Jim was and always will be ‘just a little boy’ to Antonia. That is expressed in the end.

      -Samka

    • As I mentioned in class today, the emotions felt between Jim and Antonia can, without hesitation. be defined as love. Their situation becomes ambiguous when attempting to label the loved shared between them. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll seperate love into two categories: intimate love and love of all other kinds. Although it may be tempting to assume their love is intimate in (possibly due to our expectations created by media today, as pointed out by Jonathan), this assumption, or any other assumption about the nature of their love, does not undermine the legitimate nature of their love, whatever that may be; their love must be something, intimate, strictly a friendship, both or something else entirely. The love shared between Jim and Antonia, if possible to decipher, reveals a great deal about their relationship and why Jim remembers Antonia the way he does.

      For my money, they’re strictly friends; there isn’t enough text to support otherwise, regardless of the standards they must follow for their time period.

  2. Evan,
    You are right on top of it! You made some really good points about the end of the book. I have to agree with you about the abrupt ending of the book. In the last few chapters, everything happens so suddenly.
    As I was reading this book, I really saw Antonia as the main character the entire time. Even when Jim went off to college, in the back of my mind I kept thinking when he’ll bring Antonia in his speech. I really saw them two living a happy life together…but I guess not.
    About the 20-year jump into the future: It was jaw dropping to me. Like I said in class, I re-read that line twice to assure myself I read it right. I just don’t see how Jim could have waited so long to see the one person he spent his childhood with and with who he shared so much mutual feeling.

    -Samka Aljukic

  3. I agree as well that My Antonia always seems to have something missing, and that Jim is an unremarkable character. Like Evan said, I wondered why there were so many sections of the book that don’t contain Antonia, as the story is supposed to be about her. Once Antonia had her first baby, I thought Jim would go back to her and maybe marry her, even though Antonia never thought of him in that way. I agree with the post that Samka made above; I don’t see how she could be someone he cared for so much, but put off seeing her for twenty years. As to Cather being a lesbian, I think it would be interesting if she really were. Maybe that’s why most of her female characters ended up having good lives, while the men ended up lonely, jobless, dead, sick, or getting beat up like Wick Cutter.

    -Savanna Beach

  4. The relationship between Antonia and Jim was the most frustrating part of the novel for me. I felt that they both had feelings for each other but whenever they talked about a relationship it was always in sadness even though they had multiple oppertunities to be together and didn’t act upon it. I feel certain that Jim regrets things in life, which is why he looks upon the past so fondly and sees it as the best point of his life. Also his relationship with Antonia’s children seems to affirm this point. Though there is nothing wrong with wanting to have a relationship with them he seems to be reliving his childhood through them. I think Jim’s character seems static because he is stuck in the past. He does not change, nor does he want to.

    ~Christina

  5. I absolutely agree with you. I remember finishing the final pages and thinking to myself, why was this titled My Antonia? She was never really his. From what I gathered, she was nothing more than a girl he grew up with. Jim and Antonia’s relationship was a tease. While I didn’t expect them to ride off in the sunset together, I at least expected a deeper connection between the two.

  6. I absolutely agree with you. I remember finishing the final pages and thinking to myself, why was this titled My Antonia? She was never really his. From what I gathered, she was nothing more than a girl he grew up with. Jim and Antonia’s relationship was a tease. While I didn’t expect them to ride off in the sunset together, I at least expected a deeper connection between the two.

    Danielle Ross

  7. I liked the ending. It was a little sad and empty, just like Jim.
    Regarding the absence of Antonia throughout many chapters, the book isn’t about her. It’s about Jim’s memories of Antonia; Antonia as he sees her in his mind.

    -melanie

  8. “It was a little sa and empty, just like Jim.”

    I really like that comment, Melanie.

    Okay, so we know I’m the super pessimist who doesn’t think Willa Cather could write her way out of a paper bag, but I did kind of like the ending other than the complete absence in the story of, well, anything. The only character who really grew in the story was Lina (I may have the name wrong, I don’t have my copy handy, she’s the one Jim actually hung out with). Otherwise, Antonia’s story was entirely predictable, as was Jim’s, as was Cather’s approach to every character. I can’t imagine reading the novel without assuming Jim is transsexual and bisexual; his repeated comments about fighting Antonia’s boyfriend are idle threats against someone he supposedly cares deeply about. I did truly love the part where Jim tries to co-opt Antonia’s sons into his life at the end though.

    – Luke

  9. I agree with Melanie on the fact that this book is about Jim’s memories on Antonia. She doesn’t have to be there for him to remember her and, from what I took away from the novel, she had profound enough an impact on him and his memories that she didn’t really have to be there physically. As for the ending and Jim’s lack of development, it could, as Evan suggested, have something to do with the fact that Willa Cather was allegedly a lesbian and she was using this novel as a way to write about women in a way that would have been forbidden for her to do using a female narrator. It could be that or it could be that Cather was simply a writer’s writer. Throughout the book it seemed to me that she was more concerned with descriptions and the aesthetics than she was with plot. As we discussed in class, she would often build up a scene only to end it uneventfully. The ending to the book could have just been an extension of this.

  10. Well put Evan! Jim seemed to dwell so much on the past that he would not allow himself to enjoy the present. All the other people he grew up with had ended up quite successful with their own businesses and/or families. I think Jim truthfully loved Antonia and probably wanted her for a wife; although in the end he would have taken her any way as long as he could be a part of her life. I never understood how come he didn’t try to pursue Antonia if he cared for her so deeply. I know in one chapter he tried to kiss her; but even that didn’t come to surface. Nothing in Jim’s life ever seemed completed because he was hanging on to the past. Therefore, Cather builds up certain moments throughout the book and never gets anywhere. I agree that Cather is a beautiful writer, especially when describing the prairie land. This helps make up for some of the missing plot elements.

    Erika K.

  11. The section Evan quoted (IV.IV) does seem to be entirely undeveloped in the novel—and this is quite disappointing since you want to empathize with Jim’s feelings and regret toward Antonia. Unfortunately, since Cather does not build up a relationship between Jim and Antonia in this way, you don’t feel any of the conviction expressed in (IV.IV): “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.” Cather does not make this sentiment real for the reader, because as Evan noted, Jim tells us nothing of it.
    Also, I would have loved an account of Antonia’s perspective—I thought the section in The Hired Girls where they are sitting by the water talking was quite interesting—it is the first time Cather shows us that the ‘Hired Girls’ are real actors in the world with their own concerns, motivations, and interpretations instead of merely passive characters reacting to their circumstances.
    Alyssa

  12. I didn’t think Jim had much of a story to begin with. He is the most unremarkable subject in the whole book. If the book was written from Antonia’s veiw and called ,”My Jim”, it would of never made the list of classics.

    I like the comment you made about Jim being the most unremarkable character in the book… Yet he is supposed to be the main one.

    In response to these two posts I would like to respectfully disagree and claim that Jim is actually a remarkable character in his own right. Many of the people in the novel may be a bit more entertaining, but lack in overall complexity. Lina, despite having a very powerful personality that enabled her to live an extraordinary life especially for a female of the time period, seemed to lack any real important defining characteristics. She didn’t understand the symbolism of her youth, she never analyzed any of the events of her past, and she seemed a bit cliche based on her typical reactions to the sometimes low-budget productions in the theater. I do believe Cather wants to show the dangers of focusing on the past too much displayed by Jim’s tragic inability to move forward in his mind; however, I am a firm believer in the idea that to progress in both a physical and metaphysical capacity you have to look to past events and learn from them. So what I am arguing is that Jim’s focus on the past shows his remarkable complexity to the point that he was never able to control his mind and simply live. His remarkable analysis of the people around him proves that he was not just there in the physical sense, but rather a non-biased scholar who was doing his best to understand and eventually explain the psychology surrounding small towns on the new frontier. I believe that what Jim lacked in excitement, he made up for with a very advanced understanding of human relationships.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s