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A STEP BEYOND
TESTS AND ANSWERS
_____ 1. The Introduction takes place
B. on a train
C. in Virginia
II. he treats Jim like a younger brother
III. he wants to go West
B. I and III only
C. I, II, and III
B. refuses it as a sign of her extravagance
C. gives her one of his in exchange
C. a difficult personality
II. provides a break in the monotony of Jim's winter
III. ruins Antonia's chances for an education
B. II and III only
C. I, II, and III
B. becomes the best dancer at the Vannis' tent
C. brings her mother into town to live with her
B. Coronado's broken heart
C. the farmers' struggle to cultivate the unbroken prairie
C. country or nation
II. with a daughter she cherishes
III. stronger than ever
B. I and II only
C. II and III only
B. the rattlesnake coming out of the prairie-dog tunnel
C. Antonia's children emerging from the fruit cellar
11. What is the point of view in My Antonia, and how does it give the novel its form?
12. Discuss Willa Cather's descriptive style.
13. How does the Nebraska terrain affect the characters' lives?
14. Why is the picnic scene at the river centrally important to the novel?
15. Why doesn't Jim marry Antonia?
_____ 1. The narrator of the novel is
B. Antonia Shimerda
C. Jim Burden
B. he's overwhelmed by the vast prairie
C. he's homesick
II. musically gifted
III. poorly suited to the rigors of pioneer life
B. III only
C. I, II and III
B. makes Antonia angry
C. saves his pony's life
B. because he doesn't understand their language
C. to show why her father doesn't like them
B. are too snobbish to look at the immigrant girls
C. end up marrying town girls
II. was designed to make Mrs. Cutter furious
III. revealed his chivalrous nature
B. I and II only
C. I and III only
B. Lena has become a prostitute
C. an unwanted pregnancy
B. realize they are forever part of each other's lives
C. agree memory is never as strong as reality
B. "the very shape and colour of anger"
C. "the instrument of Antonia's special mission"
11. Nostalgia for lost youth is a strong theme in this novel. Does Jim view the past with regret or affirmation? Explain.
12. What is the relationship between the immigrants and the pioneers from the eastern states of the U.S.?
13. Analyze the way in which minor characters affect the narrative.
14. What do the three happy families- the Burdens, the Harlings, and the Cuzaks- represent?
15. Discuss Antonia and Lena as opposites.
11. Cather creates a narrator, Jim Burden, (see the Introduction) who claims to be relating his memories of Antonia, his childhood friend. He says these observations are random and formless. Indeed, the novel has little plot in the conventional sense (beginning, climax, resolution). Instead it achieves a sense of unity through the consistent sensibility of the narrator. Through his eyes (and from his own perspective) you see not only Antonia but the whole texture of life in Nebraska.
12. Cather introduces each new character or place in the novel with a paragraph or two of description. Commentators have marveled at her ability to evoke or suggest such a quantity of information and emotion with such a relative economy of words. Note, for example, her vivid portraits of Otto, Grandmother Burden, Blind d'Arnault, and both the Cutters. Often the description centers on the eyes, as with Antonia, Mr. Shimerda, Grandfather Burden, and Leo. In her descriptions of the land, Cather also makes Nebraska come to life. She does this by using strong vocabulary, appeals to the senses, and literary devices such as images, metaphors, similes, personification, and vernacular speech. An example of such a device is her recurring images of autumn sunsets.
13. The huge grass-covered prairie makes Jim feel like a tiny part of a vast universe. He enjoys this free new sensation of merging with nature, and his appreciation of the landscape and seasons form a thread throughout the book. For the immigrant pioneers the land is a force to be reckoned with and tamed. Cather presents the land as an ideal force which rewards those who work hard. Fruitful harvest and harmony with nature are most clearly symbolized by Antonia herself.
14. Several important themes come together in this scene (Chapter XIV of Book II). A rich description of the landscape echoes backward to Book I and forward to Book V. We see images of sunset and of autumn- both significant times in the novel. Jim and Antonia talk over shared memories and reaffirm their close friendship. Lena indicates her attraction to Jim, which will prove important in Book III. Coronado's story and the plough silhouetted against the sunset remind us of themes of the history and development of the land. The entire mood of the chapter is established by strong nature imagery and nostalgic emotion.
15. In high school, Jim scorned the town boys who were attracted to the hired girls but did not view them as marriage partners. Yet does Jim behave any differently? Though he has strong friendships with several of the hired girls, he seems to accept unquestioningly that he will go away from them. Education and a career are his priorities. Antonia's priorities are to have a family and farm. The four-year difference in their ages has always been a barrier to a romantic attachment. But more important, they are different personalities: he observes and she acts; she has a specific goal, and he lets his life unfold as it will. Ironically, this difference- or unsuitability- is what lets Jim make Antonia an almost mythically romantic figure in his life.
11. As an adult, Jim Burden is perhaps not very personally fulfilled. Does he regret losing the past? Or are his memories of the past so positive that they sustain him in the present? Judging by the vividness of the settings, characters, and emotions he recalls, it seems likely that his nostalgia is more affirmation than regret. Antonia, his oldest friend, is someone he thinks of often and with warmth. When he finally visits her after twenty years, her life is similar to the rural days of his growing up.
Willa Cather believed in sustaining the values of an earlier generation, and she makes Jim Burden speak for her. As indicated in the novel's epigraph, he feels "the best days are the first to flee." However, in Book V, Jim discovers that the best of the past is still alive. Not only does Antonia represent their shared "incommunicable past," but her children and husband have all of her best qualities, and with them Jim rediscovers his own childlike spontaneity and generosity.
12. The European immigrants have a difficult time for several reasons. They don't speak English at first. Many of them have never farmed before. Some, like the Shimerdas, have been charged high prices for poor land. But in most cases they have the energy and determination to overcome these obstacles. They work very hard to establish their farms. Jim Burden feels they represent the best pioneer values. Their daughters go without an education so they can work in town to help their families. There is some tension between them and the young people of the town because of their different customs and attitudes toward life. The town boys are attracted to the hired girls, but wouldn't think of marrying them. Though some people, like Otto or Jake, are prejudiced against foreigners, most of the pioneer settlers of all backgrounds seem generally to accept each other and live in harmony.
13. Cather admitted that this is not a traditionally organized book. Instead, My Antonia is composed of a series of episodes not necessarily involving the same characters. For this reason the novel has been called episodic. We are continually given bits of information about minor characters like Otto and Jake, the hired girls, Anton Jelinek, or the Cutters. As in real life, these secondary people fade in and out of the picture, forming a colorful background for the main characters.
In addition, the novel includes unexpected tales, or extended anecdotes, containing material as diverse as the Peter and Pavel story, Blind d'Arnault's life, and the play Camille. These give the book the benefit of sudden changes of mood and setting, and often provide a subtle message relevant to the main characters.
14. The Burdens are hard-working, self-sufficient pioneers. Grandfather is pious and fair, and Grandmother is resourceful and neighborly. Their home seems ideal: warm, comfortable, and busy. The Harling household is also a beehive of domestic activity, headed by the energetic, motherly Mrs. Harling. Some of Antonia's happiest moments are in these two havens and when she has her own large family and farm she attributes her domestic success to what she learned from her two role models. By repeating this family motif three times, Willa Cather presents an appealing image which carries a moral: the most time- honored way of life is still the most fulfilling.
15. Antonia Shimerda and Lena Lingard, two lovely, energetic and resourceful immigrant girls, provide interesting character contrasts. While Antonia's wages are collected by her brother, Lena manages her own, and is finally able to build a house for her mother. In this way Lena has always been more independent. In spite of her sexual appeal, Lena is determined never to be tied down by marriage. She has always wanted to escape the farm, and ends up in San Francisco as a successful dressmaker.
Antonia, on the other hand, discovers her own attractiveness all at once, falls in love, and ends up abandoned and pregnant. Throughout her younger years she returns to the family farm whenever she's in trouble. At last she achieves her dream of a large family and a productive farm. In Book III, titled "Lena Lingard," Antonia is rarely mentioned. Lena functions as a foil or contrast for Antonia's qualities: passion, devotion, and domestic happiness. In spite of being so self-possessed at the beginning, Lena ends up with less. The reader admires Lena, but loves Antonia.
TERM PAPER IDEAS AND OTHER TOPICS FOR WRITING
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