The Beauty of the Lack of Structure in My Antonia

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According to James E. Miller Jr.'s, "My Antonia; A Frontier Drama of Time," Willa Cather's novel, one of her most important and perhaps most popular works, is "defective in structure" (Bloom, 21). He quotes E. K. Brown, who defends that: " 'Everything in the book is there to convey a feeling, not to tell a story, not to establish a social philosophy, not even to animate a group of characters'" (21). The reader undoubtedly feels the impact of the story of Antonia and Jim as Cather intended, but critics blind themselves to the essence of My Antonia, by looking for a "consistent central action of unbroken character portrayal" (21). The structure bases itself on the narrative of Jim Burden, who recalls significant moments in an abstract pattern from his life and friendship formed with Antonia. These are memories evoked by emotion, events which have long been buried by the past, and when retracted from the recesses Jim's adult mind, will certainly not retain their order. Jim's (Cather's) narrative personifies romanticism in his manuscript. Conventional structure is irrelevant to the true meaning of Cather's story.

The collection of books that make up the novel My Antonia are sporadic but not Homeric in the sense that Jim, or Antonia for that matter, centers all action. For instance, Cather gives us the totally unrelated story of Peter and Pavel and their murderous sleigh ride in Russia. Antonia virtually drops out of the narrative for a large portion of the novel as Jim grows away from her and the farm. We get Book II: The Hired Girls, which brings out front Lena Lingard and the other foreign girls in the text. And possibly the character in the story of Jim's youth that receives the most attention from Cather is ...

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...nline source). We all have romantic visions of certain aspects of our lives, but I think Cather puts forth that carrying those views throughout life advances into a deterioration personal growth.


Miller, Jr., James E. "My Antonia: A Frontier Drama of Time." Modern Critical Interpretations: My Antonia. Ed. Harold Bloom.

New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. 21-29.

Peck, Demaree C. The Imaginative Claims of the Artist in Willa Cather's Fiction: "Possesson Granted by a Different Lease." London: Associated University Presses, 1996.

Randall III, John H. "Intrepretation of My Antonia." Willa Cather and Her Critics. Ed. James Schroeter. New York: Cornell University Press, 1967. 272-323.

Wells, Kim. "My Antonia: A Survey of Critical Attitudes." August 23, 1999. Online Internet. November 4, 1998.
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