Gay and lesbian studies, Queer theory, American literature, Willa Cather (1873-1947)


Since its 1918 publication, Willa Cather’s My Ántonia has been lauded for Cather’s masterful description of the Nebraska prairie landscape; since the mid-1980s, this text has also been the subject of countless queer theoretical analyses, many of which focus on what their authors perceive as an obstructed romantic connection between the novel’s two main characters, Jim Burden and Ántonia Shimerda. While these two subjects may not initially seem correlative, a more recent—and unrelated—critical essay illuminates a new way of examining Cather’s attention to setting. When we view My Ántonia in conjunction with José Esteban Muñoz’s “Queerness as Horizon: Utopian Hermeneutics in the Face of Gay Pragmatism” and attend to both Cather’s investment in My Ántonia’s landscape and preexisting queer criticism of her characters, it becomes clear that Jim and Ántonia’s relationship is not one that is destined to end in marriage, nor in any sort of romantic entanglement. Instead, this paper suggests that it is the tie to nature with which the author has imbued Jim and Ántonia, and its presence in the text, that compels this pair to maintain a certain distance from each other. This metaphor’s connection to “Queerness as Horizon” also allows for a more generous queer reading, rather than the somewhat limiting lesbian- or gay-focused ones that we often find applied to Cather’s work. By juxtaposing Muñoz’s ideal of the queer horizon against both Jim’s unromantic idealism regarding Ántonia and Cather’s focus on the details of the Midwest prairie, I will demonstrate that this particular relationship can and should be read as simultaneously fulfilling and platonic.



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

Persistent Identifier




To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.