Lawton Hawkins January 27, 2009 History 112 My Antonia, My past People always want a claim to something to make them feel like they have a definition- belonging, especially when the world, as it was in the late 18th century and early 19th century, is defined by change. With change come new opportunities and new beginnings as well as the longing for stability to claim or control something. Some people like Lena, Tiny, and Mrs. Shimerda claim their future, while others like Mr. Shimerda completely disregard the future and claim and cling to the long forgotten past; Jim looks at the future through the lenses of his claim- his past, his Antonia. In Turner?s frontier thesis, he declared that the American frontier is a ?new field of opportunity [and] a gate of escape from the bondage of the past?; (Turner, Frontier thesis) however, some people didn?t accept the new opportunities of the West and chose to stay in the bondage and memory of the past. Mrs. Shimerda was obsessed the idea of a new world with, ?much money, much land for my boys, much husbands for my girls? (Willa Cather 96). She claimed to her desired future for her family, and she seemed to forget the life she used to have, while her husband, had the opposite claim. Antonia told Jim that her father used to be happy. He was ?sad for his old country [?] At home he used to play the violin all the time. Here never. [?] He don?t like this kawn-tree? (Willa Cather 95-96). During one brutal winter, Mr. Shimerda killed himself. He couldn?t move out from under the burden of the past, and his longing for his old country. Years after his death, Jim and Antonia discussed his death and decided, ?he was on his way back to his own country? (Willa Cather 199)- back to happiness, freedom. One day when Frances Harding and Jim were on a walk, she told him that he ?always put a kind of glamour over the [hired girls]? (Willa Cather 193). This was true; he admired their bravery, for none of the girls had had easy lives. Antonia, Tiny and Lena rose above the hardships they faced in the West, and had aspirations and goals that they obtained. Tiny Soderball went on to ?lead the most adventurous life and to achieve the most solid worldly success? (Willa Cather 240). Lena told Jim, that she intended ?to get [her] mother out of that old sod house where she lived so many years? (Willa Cather 202). Lena started her own dress making business, and was able to build her mother a new house. Jim ?couldn?t help thinking that those years when Lena literally hadn?t enough clothes to cover herself might have something to do with her untiring interest in dressing the human figure? (Willa Cather 227). These girls learned from their past, accepted the past, and claimed their future. Jim, as the narrator, gives the reader a special insight into his life: past, present and future. He describes his past, mainly Antonia, with great detail. His past ?stood out strengthened and simplified? (Willa Cather 216). His admiration of Antonia and his longing for her acceptance drives much of his actions. He holds her life to very high standards, she?s the way he views his past. He equates his ability to achieve his dreams with Antonia. Before Jim left Black Hawk to achieve his dreams through knowledge and schooling, he needed the comfort that she was going to continue with her dreams- to keep her fervor, ?her warm, sweet face, her kind arms, the true heart in her; she was, oh, she was still my Antonia? (Willa Cather 190). Antonia was one of the first people Jim met when he came to move with his grandparents, and at the end of the book when Jim and Antonia walk down the same road they first came down many years ago, he finally realized why he equates with her with the future. No matter where the world takes them, they will always ?possess together the precious, the incommunicable past? (Willa Cather 286). Everyone claims something- whether it?s the past, present, future or a person that might have significant meaning. Some of these claims are healthy while others, like in Mr. Shimerdas, can be fatal. Jim felt such a strong connection with Antonia, because she represents the past that he loves, and the reassurance that the Antonia and the past will always be there.
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