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In Willa Cather's My Antonia, how is Jim's view of the hired girls and the towns-girls...

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littledevil | (Level 1) Honors

Posted December 4, 2010 at 4:29 AM via web

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In Willa Cather's My Antonia, how is Jim's view of the hired girls and the towns-girls different from the townspeople's view?

Give at least two examples of the differences.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 12, 2011 at 9:01 AM (Answer #1)

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In Willa Cather's novel My Antonia, the story is told from Jim Burden's point of view.

While Jim may be considered nostalgic (and is even told by Francis that he is a romantic), he holds a special place in his heart for the "hired" girls.

Jim has known these girls since he arrived at his grandparents' homestead many years before, and he has grown up with them. While living on the Nebraska frontier was difficult for his family, they survived in some comfort. On the other hand, Antonia and her family, who also arrived at the same time, suffered great agony, with heartaches that might have destroyed weaker sorts.

There is a liveliness about the hired girls that Jim loves. He never has a wish to take advantage or be unkind, but finds the girls lovers of life in general. They embrace their existence with a passion that he finds missing in the towns-girls, perhaps because they have not had to deal with the hardships that make the "foreign" girls so appreciative of being alive.

He does not find this hunger in the towns-girls: what they have is what is expected. There is no struggle: it is bestowed upon them. Frances Harding, for instance, is as smart as any man. She is well-respected within the community and works hard with her father's business interests, but is respectable in her manner and found acceptable being "town-born," and a member of polite society.

The towns-people are very select in their perceptions of the girls who are foreign-born: they see them as wild and inappropriate. They get bad reputations—perhaps because of their wild enthusiasm—even though they are still allowed to work tirelessly for the "upright" members of the Black Hawk community.

Specifically, Jim says:

If I told my schoolmates that Lena Lingard's grandfather was a clergyman, and much respected in Norway, they looked at me blankly. What did it matter? All foreigners were ignorant people who couldn't speak English.

Likewise, there were country folk and townspeople who felt they could take advantage of the "country" girls. Ole Benson followed Antonia around all the time, even though his crazy wife would come after Antonia with a knife. Nothing happened between them, but it was "unseemly" that Antonia and Ole (a married man) would spend time together. One of the young men from town decided, though he was to marry in two days, to walk Antonia home from a dance. Trying to kiss her, she smacked him in the face. Had she been a towns-girl, he would never have thought to try it.

On the other hand, the daughters of Black Hawk merchants were never hired out to do work.  They were "refined."

...no matter in what straights the Pennsylvanian or Virginian found himself, he would not let his daughters go out into service.

Jim sees the country girls and the towns-girls differently, mostly because of their passion (or lack thereof) for life. The townspeople have lived so long a safe and complacent existence that they can no longer appreciate the simple joy of being alive. Jim can see this difference between the "towners" and the "country" folk.

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