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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
Willa Cather plots My Antonia according to the seasons especially in the first two books of the novel. As mentioned above, this is a method that goes a long way back in the history of fiction. Cather puts it to good use in representing the startling and earth-shattering seasonal changes one experiences on the prairies of Nebraska. The winter blizzard of Jimís first Christmas in Nebraska is vividly portrayed as is his exuberant embrace of the joys of springtime.
The larger plot, however, is based on Jimís relationship with Antonia. The novel is plotted along a continuum of closeness versus distance. It begins with distance--fear and suspicion--as Antonia is an immigrant and Jim has been exposed to enough anti-immigrant propaganda that it structures his view of her from beginning to end. Soon, however, they begin to play together as children. Jim teaches her English and admires her quick intelligence.
These days of childhood play are remembered throughout the novel and serve as a measure of Jimís closeness or distance from Antonia. When he feels close to her, he says she is being like her old self when they were childhood friends. When he feels distant from her, he says she is far from this young girl self. These days are only brief owing to the class differences between Antonia and Jim. Unlike Jim who can spend his days playing, Antonia must work to help her familyís farm succeed. Jim resents her for leaving him alone and as a young boy can only feel resentful of her and her brother.
Antonia comes back into a fairly close relationship with Jim when she moves to town and begins to work for the Harlings. However, she is never close enough for Jimís satisfaction. She is too devoted to Charlie Harling for Jimís liking. When Antonia moves out of the Harlings and into the Cutters sheís as distant from Jim as she ever gets. With Mr. Cutterís attempted rape of her, she comes back into the circle of intimacy as Jim and his grandmother help her.
The longest separation of the novel is the twenty year span when Jim moves to New York and becomes a successful lawyer. The novel closes on closeness as he comes back to find Antonia her old self, in love with the land and eager to love the people around her.