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My Antonia
Willa Cather




_____ 1. The Introduction takes place

    A. in Nebraska
    B. on a train
    C. in Virginia
_____ 2. Otto intrigues Jim because
    I. he looks like a character out of Jesse James
    II. he treats Jim like a younger brother
    III. he wants to go West
    A. I and II only
    B. I and III only
    C. I, II, and III
_____ 3. When Antonia offers Jim her ring, he
    A. takes it as a token of her gratitude
    B. refuses it as a sign of her extravagance
    C. gives her one of his in exchange
_____ 4. Grandmother Burden thinks Mrs. Shimerda is
    A. a good housekeeper
    B. deaf
    C. a difficult personality
_____ 5. Mr. Shimerda's death
    I. is from unknown causes
    II. provides a break in the monotony of Jim's winter
    III. ruins Antonia's chances for an education
    A. III only
    B. II and III only
    C. I, II, and III
_____ 6. Black Hawk's perception of Antonia changes when she
    A. comes to work for the Harlings
    B. becomes the best dancer at the Vannis' tent
    C. brings her mother into town to live with her
_____ 7. The plough silhouetted against the sun symbolizes
    A. the degradation of farm work
    B. Coronado's broken heart
    C. the farmers' struggle to cultivate the unbroken prairie
_____ 8. Gaston Cleric explains that to Virgil the word patria meant
    A. local neighborhood or region
    B. patriot
    C. country or nation
_____ 9. Antonia's humiliating abandonment by Larry Donovan leaves her
    I. isolated from her family
    II. with a daughter she cherishes
    III. stronger than ever
    A. I, II and III
    B. I and II only
    C. II and III only
_____ 10. The "veritable explosion of life out of the dark cave" refers to
    A. the Shimerdas' move from their dugout to the log house
    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

    A. Willa Cather
    B. Antonia Shimerda
    C. Jim Burden
_____ 2. Jim doesn't say his prayers at the end of his first day in Nebraska because
    A. he forgot
    B. he's overwhelmed by the vast prairie
    C. he's homesick
_____ 3. Mr. Shimerda can be described as
    I. well educated
    II. musically gifted
    III. poorly suited to the rigors of pioneer life
    A. I and II only
    B. III only
    C. I, II and III
_____ 4. Jim's killing the rattlesnake
    A. gives him a chance to gain Antonia's approval
    B. makes Antonia angry
    C. saves his pony's life
_____ 5. Antonia tells Jim Peter and Pavel's story
    A. to scare him
    B. because he doesn't understand their language
    C. to show why her father doesn't like them
_____ 6. The young men of the town
    A. all want to marry immigrant girls
    B. are too snobbish to look at the immigrant girls
    C. end up marrying town girls
_____ 7. Wick Cutter's trick
    I. was nearly Antonia's downfall
    II. was designed to make Mrs. Cutter furious
    III. revealed his chivalrous nature
    A. II and III only
    B. I and II only
    C. I and III only
_____ 8. A parallel between Jim and Lena's relationship and the play Camille is
    A. a younger man's attraction to an experienced woman
    B. Lena has become a prostitute
    C. an unwanted pregnancy
_____ 9. When Jim and Antonia talk after his return from Harvard they
    A. decide they should have gotten married
    B. realize they are forever part of each other's lives
    C. agree memory is never as strong as reality
_____ 10. Anton Cuzak is
    A. "autocratic and imperial"
    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.


  1. B
  2. A
  3. B
  4. C
  5. B
  6. B
  7. C
  8. A
  9. C
  10. C

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.


  1. C
  2. B
  3. C
  4. A
  5. B
  6. C
  7. B
  8. A
  9. B
  10. C

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.

[My Antonia Contents]


    1. Analyze the character of Jim Burden.
    2. Analyze the character of Antonia Shimerda.
    3. How does the prairie shape Jim's philosophy as reflected in the statement "...that is happiness, to be dissolved into something complete and great"?
    4. What is Lena Lingard's role in the novel?
    5. Contrast Grandfather Burden, as representing the New World, with Mr. Shimerda, as representing the Old.
    6. Describe the independent women characters in My Antonia.
    1. Discuss the picture of immigrants in a new land. (Refer to their European backgrounds and traditions, and the difficulties they experience in the New World, including the reactions of their American neighbors.)
    2. Show how My Antonia may be considered a documentation of the pioneer experience.
    3. In what way does the picnic scene at the river signify the end of Antonia's and Jim's carefree youth?
    4. Outline the correlation between Willa Cather's life and the characters and events of My Antonia.
    5. How can My Antonia be seen as an appreciation of the ethics and practices of an earlier period?
    6. Discuss Cather's nature imagery and descriptions of seasons as reflecting the author's love of the land.
    7. Discuss the importance of friendship in My Antonia.
    8. How is Jim's phrase, "some memories are realities," supported by the entire novel?
    1. How does Willa Cather unify a seemingly plotless, episodic story?
    2. What are the stylistic techniques used in My Antonia to make the characters, both major and minor, so vivid?
    3. Discuss how Cather appeals to the five senses to evoke the natural surroundings of her story.
    4. How do "extended anecdotes" (such as Peter and Pavel's story) contribute to the effectiveness of My Antonia?
    5. Show how each of the following important scenes reveals conflicting emotions: Mr. Shimerda's Christmas visit, the river picnic, and Jim's meeting with Antonia before he leaves for law school.

[My Antonia Contents]


an ornamental spray of feathers or gems

French phrase meaning self-esteem

an herb used in a liniment for sprains or bruises

a water-carved gully or channel

a secretion of the liver, used figuratively to mean anger

slang word for Bohemian, used pejoratively

ploughing prairie land for the first time

a long cloak

(silver) decorated with an indented pattern

(university) two years of preparatory courses conditions for entry to university

an adhesive bandage

a children's illness marked by coughing and difficult breathing

to cut pieces of twine or metal for binding sheaves of grain

the hot noon meal on a farm

a watershed, or dividing ridge between drainage areas

a natural ditch or valley that draws the water off a piece of land

a strong low cart or wagon

a dwelling dug out of a hillside

slang for particularly neat


a neutered male horse

streaked with gray

a small gorge cut in the earth by a stream

hart's antler, a source of ammonia; also the ammonia water made from it

a piece of land acquired under the Homestead Act (1862), or the farm established on such land

Antonia's pronunciation of 'country'

a long rope for lassoing animals

the peg by which a lariat is fixed to the ground, restricting an animal to one area

a hired team of horses and a wagon

familiar term for mother in Bohemian

fat drippings from a cooked sheep

a river in northern Nebraska

French phrase meaning a nobleman's special obligation to behave honorably

a tract of potentially valuable land (especially on land thought to contain particles of gold)

braiding rawhide strips into whips

applying a medicinal compress (poultice)

a simple book for teaching children to read

divine guidance or care

a severe inflammation of the throat accompanied by swelling and fever

a riding whip with a short handle

a narrow, steep-sided valley, bigger than a gully and smaller than a canyon

a dance like the polka but slower

the boundaries between surveyed sections of land

the sloping sides of a river or stream

a pile of sheaves of grain set up in a field with the butt ends facing downward

top layer of prairie land

a house built from brick-like pieces of sod

a grain cultivated for syrup or animal feed

a light wagon with springs


a neutered (castrated) bull raised for beef

familiar term for father in Bohemian

in Greek mythology, husband of Aurora (the dawn)

a small ventilation window above a door

a moneylender's receipts

food (pronounced "vittles")

a water well with a bucket that is raised on a rope by turning a crank

THE STORY, continued

ECC [My Antonia Contents] []

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
Further distribution without the written consent of, Inc. is prohibited.

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