6 reviews

My Antonia
by Willa Cather

Published: 2013-04-06
Paperback : 0 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 2 of 6 members
I FIRST HEARD OF Antonia on what seemed to me an interminable journey across the great midland plain of North America. I was ten years old then; I had lost both my father and mother within a year, and my Virginia relatives were sending me out to my grandparents, who lived in Nebraska. I travelled ...
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I FIRST HEARD OF Antonia on what seemed to me an interminable journey across the great midland plain of North America. I was ten years old then; I had lost both my father and mother within a year, and my Virginia relatives were sending me out to my grandparents, who lived in Nebraska. I travelled in the care of a mountain boy, Jake Marpole, one of the 'hands' on my father's old farm under the Blue Ridge, who was now going West to work for my grandfather. Jake's experience of the world was not much wider than mine.

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Discussion Questions

From the Publisher:

1. Kathleen Norris writes in her foreword that "in many ways the world of My Ántonia is still with us, a neglected but significant part of America." What relevance does the novel have today, and what does it reveal to us about our collective past?

2. Jim states that "some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again." Does this explain why he is constantly looking at the past instead of toward the future? How is this sentiment reflected in the overall elegiac tone of the novel?

3. The narrator of the prologue in My Ántonia is an unnamed speaker who knew Jim Burden in youth and meets him years later on a train. How do the details revealed in this prologue foreshadow the events of the rest of the novel? Cather rewrote the prologue in 1926; the version published in the original 1918 edition is included as an appendix in the Mariner Books paperback edition. What did Cather accomplish by revising the prologue, and how do you think it changed your reading of the novel?

4. The main narrator of My Ántonia is Jim Burden, Ántonia's childhood friend, who reminisces from the vantage point of adulthood about their childhood together. Why did Cather choose Jim, a corporate lawyer, to tell this American frontier story? Is Jim a reliable narrator? What do we learn about both Jim and Ántonia from his recollections?

5. Jim's first reaction to the Nebraska frontier is a sense of being overwhelmed by the environment and powerless against its magnitude. He recalls, "Between that earth and that sky, I felt erased, blotted out. I did not say my prayers that night: here, I felt, what would be would be." How does Jim enjoy this newfound sense of being a small part of a vast universe, and how is his reverence for nature and the seasons reflected in the course of the novel?

6. Just as the Nebraska landscape initially seems formless to Jim, his narrative begins in a seemingly unstructured, haphazard way. Many early critics of My Ántonia complained about the lack of structure and did not consider it a proper novel. The book has little in the way of a conventional plot, but it still forms a cohesive whole. What unifies the narrative? How does Cather bring the novel full circle, mirroring Jim's obervation "What a little circle man's experience is"?

7. In describing Ántonia, Jim Burden remarks, "More than any other person we remembered, this girl seems to mean to us the country, the conditions, the whole adventure of our childhood." How does Ántonia come to represent so much of what Jim misses from his youth? Which of her qualities lend themselves to this description?

8. What drives Jim's affection for Ántonia, and what is the nature of that affection? Does Ántonia reciprocate these feelings? Is it fair to say their relationship is a romantic one? In what ways does the picnic scene at the river represent the end of Ántonia's and Jim's carefree youth?

9. What is the nature of Ántonia's feelings for her native Bohemia? Does she have stronger ties to Bohemia or to Nebraska? How do her feelings mirror Jim's feelings about New York and Nebraska? How are Ántonia's feelings similar or dissimilar to the feelings of other immigrants of her time? Do you think the conflict she feels is also felt by immigrants today?

10. As in Willa Cather's other novels, the land in many ways symbolizes terrific hardships and great rewards. What is each character's relationship to the land, and how is each saved or destroyed by the relationship?

11. At the center of the novel is Ántonia's creativity, her harmony with her environment, and her contribution to the forging of a new country and the building of a family and a community. Near the novel's beginning, Jim defines happiness as being "dissolved into something complete and great." Does Ántonia achieve this kind of happiness? What is the complete, great thing in her life? Can the adult Jim ever achieve this kind of happiness?

12. The epigraph for My Ántonia is a quote from Virgil: Optima dies . . . prima fugit — "The best days are the first to flee." What is the significance of this quotation, and how does it relate to the last line of the novel: "Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past"?

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Member Reviews

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by Nancy S. (see profile) 04/03/19

  "My Antonia"by Carolyn R. (see profile) 05/04/16

three and 1/2 stars. Read this in high school and just re read for a book club. I found that one reviewer states it didn't have much of a plot but that the words create pictures of the west. i would... (read more)

  "Beautiful Imagery"by KERRIN P. (see profile) 03/27/14

Willa Cather's beautifully written description of the prairie and the lives of the inhabitants in the late 1800's. The book is narrated by a man, who has the greatest admiration and respect for the females... (read more)

  "My Antonia"by Jolene B. (see profile) 06/17/11

have read about half but do not even care to finish the book; does not hold my interest at all.

  "My Antonia"by Judy M. (see profile) 05/25/11

Not an interesting book. Hoped it would get better as I read each chapter. Would not recommend the book or read it again.

  "my antonia"by jo ann j. (see profile) 05/17/11

was difficult to return to reading.

  "My Antonia"by gay d. (see profile) 02/02/11

While some parts where beautifully written, I found it too slow. And it left me wanting more of a plot and story line to bring it all together. I guess if you have a love for the prairie, than you will... (read more)

  "Why had I not read this as a child????"by Kerri F. (see profile) 01/01/09

I LOVED this book!! I have no idea why i hadn't read it as a child. It was like "Little House" but with immigrants and a sensitive boy thrown in. I couldn't get enough of it and was very s... (read more)

  "Beautiful writing, good for discussion of women's roles in the late 1800s"by Shirley B. (see profile) 07/18/08

  "Thumbs up for this beautifully crafted story"by Lisa C. (see profile) 07/18/08

We went to a classic this month, as we mostly read contemporary literature and some of us had not read Cather before. The descriptive, evocative language of turn-of-the-century Nebraska was something... (read more)

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