The Theme of Love and Nostalgia in the Novel My Antonia
The word “nostalgia” describes a feeling of longing for the past. The feeling is both bitter, because the past cannot be retrieved, and sweet, because the feeling is triggered by warm, affectionate memories. Despite changes in its meaning over time, from a disease to something beneficial now, nostalgia has not lost its significance in literature. It is used in poems, novels, and plays to evoke feelings of sadness or pleasure a character experiences when recalling his past or his homeland. The past that they long for could be in the form of memory, place, love or relationship. Thus, nostalgia is an useful tool used in My Antonia as it serves to emphasize different themes in the book. It is also used in the characterization of different characters as they felt nostalgic, be it homesickness, longing for the past, isolation, loneliness, physical decline, isolation, loneliness or depression. Thus, in this essay, i will analyse the significance of nostalgia in My Antonia as it reminds the readers of different themes in the novel.
Nostalgia can be seen throughout the book as Jim Burden narrates the story of My Antonia. My Antonia is a book about the love and affection for the past as Jim expresses his nostalgia for Antonia. It is obvious that Jim felt nostalgic for places and persons throughout the novel and without the use of nostalgia, this novel would not have existed.
Nostalgia serves to highlight the theme of love, the desires Jim has for Antonia. Jim recalls “I used to think with pride that Ántonia, like Snow-White in the fairy tale, was still ‘fairest of them all.” Jim’s nostalgia for Antonia’s beauty is shown as he compares Antonia to Snow white, a perfect women sort after by men. As, Jim takes ‘pride’ in Antonia’s beauty, it reveals to us that Jim is taking some sort of ownership of Antonia, thinking that she belongs to him. He anticipates the relationship with Antonia, just like Snow White and the prince in the fairy tale which portrays his love and affection for Antonia. However, this also foreshadows that their relationship is just like a fairy-tale, an unrealistic dream. Also, Jim’s desire for Antonia can be seen as “I used to wish I could have dreams like this about Ántonia, but I never did.” Jim hopes to have dreams ‘about Antonia’ suggests that he merely use Lena as a replacement to show his love for Antonia. Jim’s inability to reconcile his sexual attractions with his romantic attractions for Antonia when in love with her. Despite his love for her, the comparison between dream and reality in this quote suggest the state of their relationship which he already knew as he recalled. Thus Jim’s nostalgia for Antonia serves to highlight the theme of love, but yet this unattainable love.
Also, nostalgia serves to emphasize the theme of the past. Both Jim and Antonia had a past and a fond memory of their place of origin. Jim was nostalgic for his homeland, where his first came from, “There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made.” Jim’s parents died and he moves alone to Nebraskan without parents, and Nebraska seems like an unfamiliar new world for a ten year old boy like him. The land , like Jim, is full of raw materials out of which something must form. Jim being an orphan has ‘nothing’ just like the land. He have nothing left to lose, feeling empty he recalls the memories he had in his homeland in order to fulfill the feeling of emptiness. However, despite the emptiness, he felt calm about his destiny and leaving it all to fate as ‘the world was left behind’ as he enters his world of memories and nostalgia, feeling ‘erased’. Thus, Jim felt nostalgic as he recalled his attitude towards his own past, highlighting the theme of past. Also, as Jim “went back alone over the familiar road, I could almost believe that a boy and a girl ran along beside me, as our shadow used to do, laughing and whispering to each other in the grass”. Jim visits Antonia at the end of the story where they had first met, feelings Nostalgic of their childhood friendship and dreams. The ‘shadow’ represents his past growing up on this land, running alongside him just like this memory following him him throughout his life. His nostalgia here suggests his longing for the past, the good times and the wonderful place that brought him up. As he walk along the road, Jin ‘ understood that the same road was to bring us together again. Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.’ Jim understood that ‘the road’, representing their memories today is what connects he and Antonia together and it contains what they ‘possessed together’, ‘incommunicable’ to others, something only they will know deep inside their hearts. Despite the fact that “the best days are the first to flee”, the beauty of whatever happened in the past could still be found as he look back at the memoir, communicating with the past, thus emphasizing the theme of the past.
Jim Burden’s nostalgia for Antonia also serves to emphasize the theme of gender. As Jim recalls of Antonia in Book 5 “She was a battered woman now, not a lovely girl; but she still had that something which fires the imagination”. The adult Jim is still contemplating the fascination he feels for Ántonia, describing her as a ‘battered’ women who fires ‘imagination. ‘Battered’ is often used to describe objects damage by beating or hard usage and Jim memory of her as battered reveals his opinions of her, ultimately seeing her as an object more than a childhood friend, something he desires to own. “She was working in the garden when we got there, barefoot and ragged”. Women take control of families, earn money, call the shots, and even do field work with the men. She works under conditions that is harsh, ‘barefoot and ragged’, together with all the other men suggest the equality they have in terms of jobs. However, the mindset of women isn’t so. Thus, the use of nostalgia as Jim desired for Antonia can emphasize the theme of gender through the memory of Antonia, revealing man’s opinions of the role of women.
The use of nostalgia also serves to highlight the theme of youth. ‘I did not want to find her aged and broken; I really dreaded it… I did not wish to lose the early ones.’ After twenty years, Jim returns to Nebraskan to find Antonia. However, he ‘dreaded’ that Antonia had lost her youth, which would ruined his perfect impression of her. Time does a huge damage to youth, to the extent that it breaks someone apart as Jim imagines Antonia to be ‘broken’. And Jim not only dislike it but ‘dreaded’ it, to the extent that he feared that Antonia, with her youth taken away by age, could no longer be connected with her ‘broken’ pieces. Thus the comparison between the adulthood and the memory of childhood as Jim recalls when he visits Antonia highlight the theme of youth.
Lastly, nostalgia helps in the characterization of Antonia as Jim’s memories of Antonia are the paradigm of his powerful nostalgia for his placid and idyllic childhood. Jim’s memory of Antonia, his description of her reveals Antonia’s characteristics to the reader. Jim describe Antonia, “She lent herself to immemorial humor attitudes which we recognise by instinct as universal and true.” This quote presents Antonia as a goddess, someone recognised universally as a perfect human being. Her ‘immemorial’ traits suggests her immemorial roots of human spirituality, her fullness of life in the spiritual state. Thus, nostalgia also serves in the development of characters in the novel.
In conclusion, My Antonia revolves around the memories of Jim Burden as he recalls what happened. All these memories evokes nostalgia in him and thus is significant in portraying many different themes in the novel and helps in the characterization of different characters.
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