Willa Cather’s 1918 novel, My Antonia, is a perfect example of literary regionalism. The Nebraskan landscape directly contributes to the emotional growth (or decline, in some cases) and the physical actions of the characters as the novel progresses. How Jim views the land is particularly important, as the story is told through his perspective.
When Jim arrives in Nebraska after setting off west from Virginia upon the death of his parents, he notes that “there seemed to be nothing to see” there and that “there was nothing but land.” His description of Nebraska as essentially blank and unchartered land, “the material out of which countries are made,” parallels his own life at that moment. Jim is newly orphaned and in a new land right at the time in his life when a young boy transitions into a man. As American expansion takes hold in Nebraska, causing incredible growth and change, the same is happening for Jim.
An important concept to keep in mind for this period in American history is Manifest Destiny, which claimed that the United States was destined by God to expand its territory across the entire continent—essentially claiming that the American settlers had a divine right to all of the land. Jim’s opinion of Nebraska as “the material out of which countries are made” lines up with the thinking involved in Manifest Destiny, suggesting that Jim himself arrives in Nebraska as the material out of which men are made.
It is no wonder, then, that Jim consistently thinks of the Nebraskan countryside during key moments of personal growth. Jim idealizes the landscape of Black Hawk, flashing to images of the land during frenzied moments of study while at University and noting how upon Lena’s sudden arrival to his college dormitory made everything “much pleasanter than before.” The beauty, strength, and simplicity of Black Hawk serves as a calming force for Jim when contrasted against the hustle and bustle of town life.
In the end, Jim realizes that he belongs in the country and that he “felt at home again” when walking through the rough pastures. He has the “sense of coming home” to himself when in Black Hawk, calling his experiences up until this point as the “road of Destiny”—directly harkening back to the concept of Manifest Destiny that Cather alludes to in chapter one.