My Antonia

Off the Beaten Path

In My Antonia, the prairie, with its dogtowns, creeks, and grassy cliffs, is as prominent a force as Jim Burden or Antonia Shimerda, in that it becomes their home and playground in childhood and shapes their consciousness in adulthood. The portrayal of this landscape, and in particular the roads that Jim and Antonia use to navigate it, mirrors the state of mind and the maturation of both the two friends and of the pioneers as a group. Cather uses descriptions of the characteristics of these paths and how they change to represent the path Jim’s life follows and to capture the idyllic nature of childhood, the vigor and independence of the pioneer experience, and how the conventional alternative seems to dull in comparison.

In general, the features of the roads in the countryside correspond with the overall state of the land and the pioneers’ relationship to it. Though the presence of roads on the prairie suggests habitation and civilization, in the early days the arrangement of the road haphazardly mimics the shape and features of the countryside, causing it to "[run] about like a wild thing,” as if it has a will of its own (Cather 18). The initially untamed prairie and meandering roads seem to echo the fact that Jim and...

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