Dark Overtones And Their Contrasts In My Antonia

Dark Overtones, and Their Contrasts in My Antonia

In My Antonia by Willa Cather, there are many dark overtones that pervade the novel. It is through the use of symbolism and contrast these overtones are made real. The prairie is the predominant setting of the novel. It may be shaped, and it conforms to the desires of those working it. The prairie¹s loneliness, shown by the wide open spaces, is a brilliant way of revealing internal conflict by using a setting. Also, it brings out the characters true meaning. Cather shows through the character of Lena Lengard that society¹s next generation would not be as good, or quite as noble as that of Cather¹s childhood. The primary inscription on the first page states that the best days are the first to flee. Cather contrasts these ideas with Antonia¹s personality, which is always bright. This contributes to the dreariness of the novel.

In the novel the prairie is a metaphor for internal conflict. Cather brilliantly demonstrates the prairie as a representation for internal conflict being portrayed by a setting (Kelley, Sean). It symbolizes loneliness and depression. When Jim, one of the main characters, was young, the prairie was uncultivated and there were not as many settlers; it was a lonely place. Being isolated from society with little or no human contact could drive anyone insane. Despair, bad luck, greed, and self-absorbtion make one lose hope also, but it is mostly the lack, or the underuse of, imagination (Kelley, Sean). The prairie was a desolate strip of land that continued as far as could be seen. In the beginning of the novel, Jim Burden states about the land:

There seemed to be nothing to see, no fences, no creek or trees, no hills or fields. I had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had gone over the edge of it.... If we never arrived anywhere, it did not matter. Between that earth, and that sky, I felt erased, blotted out. (3 - 4)

It seems that Jim tries to express that the prairie is forlorn, and deprived of life, making one aware of being alone. Because Jim has left behind all that is familiar, and started over his life, he has a clean slate, and that is what the prairie is. E. K. Brown, once wrote, ³The impersonal vastness of the land is the freedom it represents.² Thus, Jim makes his own destiny. At first, he is negatively affected by his isolation, since he has only one friend, Jake. When he finds other companions, like the Shimerdas, the land is no longer quite as lonesome. He takes on the point of view that life will work itself out on the prairie. With this view in mind he feels at one with the landscape. Jim\'s childhood as Commager says, ³is flavored by the land²( 31:115-116). With so much solitude on the endless prairie, one can be lead to an alternative to rid oneself of suffering. A prime example of this would be Mr. Shimerda, Antonia\'s father, who kills himself out of seclusion and also because of a loveless marriage. Slowly, these two things began to erase his personality, until there was so little left of him, he was a bare shadow of the prominent social figure that he had once been. He was finally driven to suicide.

In My Antonia, there is the suggestion that the next generation will not be as gallant as the one Antonia lived in. Like Robert E. Scholes, many critics seem to agree that, ³There is the suggestion that the coming generations will be less heroic and more ordinary than the present breed.² (31:37) The rough experiences Antonia underwent molded who she is. She makes sacrifices so that her family can prosper, and her younger siblings can go to school, and thus have more ³options². Henry Steele Commager wrote that to Jim it seems that the experiences have made the sacrificers stronger, and that it is actually the ones who have sacrificed who have more ³options². Lena Lengard is a fundamental example of this. The situations that have shaped Antonia will not reoccur. Antonia looks to the future of her children, but Jim knows that the future will be,