Jim and the other characters in My Ántonia struggle between living in the present and remembering the past. They share a common longing for the years and places left behind. To Jim, the past represents the lost innocence of his childhood, while to immigrants like the Shimerdas, the past means the friendlier, more familiar villages they left behind in Europe. In Book I, the Shimerdas and other immigrant characters cling to the traditions, people, and places of the "old country." Mr. Shimerda never overcomes his homesickness for Bohemia, and Peter and Pavel cannot escape the dark secrets of their youth in Russia. But the past also functions as a kind of spiritual sustenance. Jim, for example, holds dear the memories of his childhood friendship with Ántonia. And Ántonia eventually moves back to the prairie, where her father's grave reminds her of her last years with him.
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The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Past appears in each chapter of My Antonia. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Below you will find the important quotes in My Antonia related to the theme of The Past.
During that burning day when we were crossing Iowa, our talk kept returning to a central figure, a Bohemian girl whom we had both known long ago. More than any other person we remembered, this girl seemed to mean to us the country, the conditions, the whole adventure of our childhood.
Book 1, Chapter 10 Quotes
I never forgot the strange taste; though it was many years before I knew that those little brown shavings, which the Shimerdas had brought so far and treasured so jealously, were dried mushrooms. They had been gathered, probably, in some deep Bohemian forest...
Book 1, Chapter 16 Quotes
The road from the north curved a little to the south; so that the grave, with its tall red grass that was never mowed, was like a little island; and at twilight, under a new moon or the clear evening star, the dusty roads used to look like soft grey rivers flowing past it. I never came upon the place without emotion, and in all that country it was the spot most dear to me."
Book 4, Chapter 4 Quotes
Book 5, Chapter 1 Quotes
She was a battered woman now, not a lovely girl; but she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one's breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in common things. She had only to stand in the orchard, to put her hand on a little crab tree and look up at the apples, to make you feel the goodness of planting and tending and harvesting at last. All the strong things of her heart came out in her body, that had been so tireless in serving generous emotions.
In my memory there was a succession of such pictures, fixed there like the old woodcuts of one's first primer: Ántonia kicking her bare legs against the sides of my pony when we came home in triumph with our snake; Ántonia in her black shawl and fur cap, as she stood by her father's grave in the snowstorm; Ántonia coming in with her work-team along the evening sky.
Book 5, Chapter 3 Quotes
For Ántonia and for me, this had been the road of Destiny; had taken us to those early accidents of fortune which predetermined for us all that we can ever be. Now I understood that the same road was to bring us together again. Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.