The tone of Willa Cather's My Ántonia is, for the most part, nostalgic, melancholic, and compassionate. Jim Burden, the book's first-person narrator, displays a deep respect for nature in his descriptions of Nebraska's vast and majestic landscape. This reverence for the natural world sometimes verges on a religious attitude. This narrator's reflections on his childhood and his friendships are often overtly nostalgic, painting a picture of a simpler time that has passed. Cather also emphasizes this overriding nostalgia through the frame story that begins the book, which sets it up as a fictional memoir from Jim's perspective.
Jim's version of the events of his youth is often tinged with melancholy and regret, although his tone always has a smile in it in early chapters. Later in the book, Jim mourns the passage of time and the changes that have come with it: the disappearance of the Nebraska farmland, the aging of his past love interests, his own missed opportunities. Romantic longing for a simpler and more idyllic past is a key feature of the novel, and it consistently affects the attitude of the narrator toward the events he recounts.
The author’s compassionate approach toward the immigrant experience in the American West of the early 1900s is also reflected in the narrator's tone. The novel deals with the hardships of prairie life—made especially hard for those new to the United States—and the narrator's sympathy toward these struggles is consistent and clear. The tone of the novel is compassionate and careful in its portrayal of immigrant communities and the unique challenges they face.