By Alwyn Cox
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Extra info for Dangerous Journey
Responding to Ántonia’s protective-ness, Jim reiterates his affection for her and indulges in a childish fit of pique: “I don’t care anything about any of them but you,” I said. ” She laughed and threw her arms around me. ” (p. 135) Much is implied beneath the studied innocence of this dialogue. Ántonia and Jim exchange declarations of affection, but they do not follow the expected script of a male-female relationship. For one thing, Antonia assumes a masculine posture simply by maintaining firm control over the situation.
By leaving Jim’s inner life only partially exposed, Cather instead invites the reader to interpret his sometimes puzzling behavior in several ways, including the possibility that he is in conflict with his desires. My Ántonia is about a romance that never happens, and one of the most interesting things about the novel is that Cather prevents her speaker from disclosing why he never marries Antonia or becomes her lover. In fact, he himself may not know the reason. Even the title, which promises an homage to “my Ántonia,” the narrator’s beloved, raises the expectation of a love affair.
What is not in dispute is that Cather felt shocked and betrayed when Isabelle McClung decided to marry the violinist Jan Hambourg in 1916. Cather eventually restored a friendship with Isabelle, but she considered the marriage “a devastating loss” (Robinson, Willa, p. 205). Since it was only several months after this personal catastrophe that Cather began writing My Ántonia, it is tempting to read the powerful sense of loss that informs Jim Burden’s recollections as a reflection of Cather’s depressed mood in the wake of Isabelle’s marriage.