My Antonia

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My Ántonia is one of eight classic American novels featured in the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read initiative, designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. The Big Read provides citizens with the opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their communities and is supported by expansive outreach and publicity campaigns. Over one hundred communities will participate in 2007, each with a program lasting approximately one month. A kick-off event is followed by panel discussions, film screenings, and lectures or public readings devoted to the book.

Willa Cather’s heartfelt novel is the unforgettable story of an immigrant woman’s life on the hardscrabble Nebraska plains. Through Jim Burden’s affectionate reminiscence of his childhood friend, the free-spirited Ántonia Shimerda, a larger, uniquely American portrait emerges, both of a community struggling with unforgiving terrain and of a woman who, amid great hardship, stands as a timeless inspiration.
Curriculet Details
50 Questions
53 Annotations
3 Quizzes

Designed for students in ninth and tenth grade, this free digital curriculum contains annotations explaining simile and metaphor, personification and euphemism. It also contains interactive videos that support comprehension, such as videos about figurative language and imagery. Over the course of the book, students will answer Common Core questions and quizzes related to the subjects of the immigrant experience, gender roles, and turn of the century life in rural Nebraska. This free online unit will increase student engagement while building reading comprehension.

The curriculet is being added to your library


This forward contains a lot of background information about Nebraska and the immigrant experience that you may find useful in your understanding of "My Ántonia". 
Optima dies... prima fugit means "the best days are the first to flee". This quotation comes from an epic poem about farming called the "Georgics," which was written by the Roman poet Virgil (pictured below). The significance of this quotation is twofold: first, this book explores the bond between man and nature, and so it bears some connection to farming. Secondly, this novel is based largely around the idea of "the good old days," a notion encompassed in the Latin phrase. (This annotation contains an image)


Notice the colorful, descriptive language used in this sentence. Figurative language is used by writers to evoke vivid imagery in the reader's mind. It uses comparisons that are not meant to be read literally. For example, Jim could have said "the conductor wore an ornate outfit," but that would not be nearly as fresh and interesting as the figurative comparison between the conductor and an Egyptian obelisk. To learn more about figurative language, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
What can you infer about Nebraska from this statement? 
Which best describes Jim's feelings about his grandfather? 
The country's appearance of running is an example of personification. Personification means giving human traits to something that is non-human (an animal, an idea, an object). The "sleepy town" or the "proud lion" are other examples of non-human things being personified. Personification allows the author to present a subject figuratively and in a way that evokes different images for the reader. To learn more about personification, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
What aspects of this story are specific to Nebraska in the late 1800s? What aspects are more universal? Cite evidence from the text and your own background knowledge to support your response.  
Another form of figurative language is the simile. Similes are figures of speech that make comparisons between two things, with the intention of making the comparison a vivid, interesting one. Here, Ántonia's eyes are compared to brown pools in the wood, with sun shining on them. Similes contain the words "like" or "as". "He rampaged through the house like a bull in a china shop" and "she was as graceful as a swan" are both similes. To learn more about similes and metaphors (a similar figure of speech) please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
Which literary device does this sentence contain? 
Earth-owls, more frequently called burrowing owls, are a strange species of owl that live primarily in the grasslands, farmland and deserts of North and South America. True to their name, burrowing owls live in burrows dug by other animals, often prairie dogs. They are nocturnal and have unusually long legs compared to their other owl cousins, which they use for sprinting. (This annotation contains an image)
In context, term "batching" describes when two bachelors (unmarried men) live together. Given that Jim is surprised by how comfortable Peter and Pavel's house is, it is safe to assume that men who "batch" together often live in pretty spartan conditions. 
Reflect on this novel's commentary about immigrants and immigrant life. What is Jim's perspective on immigrants and their experiences? 
Gender is one of the main themes of this novel. In particular, keep an eye out for examples of inversions of gender stereotypes such as this one. When we make generalizations about gender, men are seen as the protectors and women are seen as the protected. Notice how Jim reacts to the fact that Ántonia is protective of him. To learn more about theme, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
How does Jim's narration bring out the tension of this event? 
A money lender is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a person who lends money to people at a premium. Money lenders make money by charging interest on what they loan out. Money lenders are often seen in as opportunistic and greedy, which are hardly positive attributes. A famous money lender in literature is Shylock, a devious character in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. 
This scene touches on an important theme in the novel. What is it? 
This coming scene is a flashback. A flashback is when a story leaves the present and gives backstory on something that happened in the past. This entire novel is something of a flashback, given that it is adult Jim's recounting of his life and Ántonia's. While you are reading this next passage in the book, think about what the purpose of this flashback is. To learn more about flashbacks, please watch the video bleow.  (This annotation contains a video)
In what ways is life in Nebraska harder on adults than it is on children? Is there a difference between how life affects immigrant versus non-immigrant adults? In your response, include textual evidence to back up your claims. 
"The Swiss Family Robinson" is a novel written by Johann David Wyss in 1812. It centers around the adventures and survival of a family that is shipwrecked on a deserted island. One iconic aspect of the novel is that the family builds and lives in a giant treehouse. (This annotation contains an image)
Throughout this novel, there will be issues of social class. Otto and Jake are examples of people with lower social standing than Jim and his family. What does Jim's narration suggest his views are on people in lower classes than his own? In your response, be sure to discuss Jim's perspectives on Otto and Jake, in addition to his interactions with immigrants. 
A gunny-sack is a sack made out of a tough, scratchy material called burlap. Gunny-sacks are durable and cheap, making them ideal for carrying heavy cargo. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the purpose of sharing this information with Jim's grandmother? 
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) married Joséphine de Beauharnais in 1796 and then almost immediately went off to war. Much of their marriage is documented in love letters Napoleon sent to Joséphine during his absences. After many infidelities by both Napoleon and Josephine and no children, Napoleon divorced Joséphine, stating "power is my mistress". (This annotation contains an image)
Which literary device is present in this sentence? 
This statement is an example of the literary device aphorism. An aphorism is a short phrase that is meant to represent a principle or wise truth. Other examples of aphorisms are "hindsight is always 20/20" and "an apple a day keeps the doctor away". What other aphorisms do you hear regularly? 
What is the tone of this passage about Jim's birthday? 
As the definition explains, a rosary is a form of prayer used in the Catholic religion. Catholics often use rosary beads (pictured below) to keep track as they go through the many parts of the rosary. This is an important detail in "My Ántonia," because it highlights the Shimerda's devout catholicism. Jim and his family are Protestants, which is an entirely different branch of Christianity. Why might it be important to be aware of the fact that the families practice different religions?  (This annotation contains an image)
In what ways is Jim's grandmother portrayed as a strong woman? 
This is a reference to a story in the New Testament of the bible. In it, a poor, blistered man named Lazarus begs outside of a rich man's home. The rich man is referred to as "Dives," though that is not his name, it's actually just a word that means "rich man". Dives never gives any food to the suffering Lazarus, and when both men die, Lazarus goes to heaven and Dives goes to hell. When Dives begs Abraham to let Lazarus dip his finger into water and help Dives quench his terrible thirst, Abraham says: "son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony." In other words, this parable serves as a reminder to be generous, and not to overlook people who do not have enough. How, if at all, does this story relate to Mr. Shimerda and his death? (This annotation contains an image)
In what ways is Jelinek boyish or childlike? In what ways is he manly? What are the effects of his having elements of both youth and adulthood in his character? 
This is a phonetic spelling for Fuchs's pronunciation of "Italian". 
What is the effect of the fact that Krajiek's involvement (or lack thereof) in Mr. Shimerda's death is never resolved? 
"The sleeper" here is the dead man, Mr. Shimerda. Referring to a dead person as a "sleeper" is an example of the literary device euphemism. A euphemism is a phrase that is meant to soften the harshness of something. Euphemisms for dying include "passing away," "kicking the bucket," or "going to a better place". A euphemism for being short might be to say that someone is "vertically challenged". 
Describing the air as "nimble" is an example of 
A draught-horse (pronounced DRAFT) is a working horse particularly bred to be able to pull large, heavy loads. Because of the difficult physical work these horses must do, they are extremely sturdy, with thick, muscular legs, torsos and necks. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the source of Jim's disapproval of Ántonia? 
Note the use of a simile here. What effect does the use of figurative language have on the reader's ability to visualize this fight? 
Ambrosch is a complex character. What can you infer are his motivations? What are his strengths and weaknesses? 
This passage contains vivid imagery. Jim describes the corn so specifically that you can even hear it growing! A mix of literal and figurative language bring the Nebraska cornfields to life. To learn more about imagery and its importance in literature, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
Part 1 Quiz 


What is the impact of the repetition of these similar phrases: we never saw them again and we never heard from them. 
Christiania is an old name for Oslo, the capital city of Norway. The city's name was changed to Christiania after a fire in the 1600s, and then changed back to Oslo in 1925. Given that Christiania has been a bustling place for many centuries, it is safe to assume that Mrs. Harling had a fairly urban upbringing. (This annotation contains an image)
What does this passage reveal about Mrs. Harling's character? 
A French coffee-pot is probably a status symbol in Black Hawk. Though most families are of European descent, it would still be seen as a luxury to have a special coffee-pot imported from France. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following describes a difference between life in Black Hawk and life in the country? 
Lena is a foil for Mrs. Harling. A foil is a character who contrasts with another character. Foils usually have opposite personalities and/or values, and serve to highlight these opposing traits in one another. Here, Lena is easygoing and a little bit frivolous. This serves to underscore how formal and serious Mrs. Harling is. 
Before you read about Lena's past, please write a description of her character based on what you have just read of her. In your character description include physical attributes, personality traits and her motivations in life. 
Lena's response may seem to reflect nothing more than her easygoing approach to life, but it also belies her inner strength. To be able to return to such a calm state of mind after having her life threatened shows that Lena is extremely resilient. 
What does this detail reveal about Lena? In what ways is Lena representative of the other hired girls and in what ways is she unique amongst them? 
As the definition explains, threshing is the act of separating the seeds of a plant (usually wheat) from the rest of the plant. The machine used for threshing is large and contains many sharp, serrated blades. Keep this in mind as you read what follows. (This annotation contains an image)
Jim has just described many ways in which Ántonia and Mrs. Harling are similar. In what ways are these two women different? 
"A Winter's Tale" is a play by William Shakespeare, written in 1623. It deals with themes of infidelity, mistrust and deceit. (This annotation contains an image)
This is a biblical reference. Samson is a character in the Old Testament, known for his supernatural strength. He kills a lion with his bare hands, and is an important soldier in the Israelites's battles with their enemies, the Philistines. When Samson is eventually captured by the Philistines, they blind him. In the end, Samson's story is a sad one. It is discovered that the source of his strength is his hair, and in an act of extreme treachery, Samson's lover Delilah cuts off all of his hair. Tied up and helpless, Samson is held by the Philistines. When his hair grows back, he uses his super strength to break down the two pillars his arms are chained to, bringing the building down upon him and killing himself. (This annotation contains an image)
How is the child d'Arnault described? 
What would the modern equivalent of the Vannis be? What role do they serve in the Black Hawk community? 
This is an example of a rhetorical question. A rhetorical question is a question that is asked without the expectation of getting an answer. Another example of a rhetorical question is when somebody asks "Who knows?" when it is clear that nobody knows. 
What does this passage suggest about the position of hired girls in Black Hawk society? 
This is an example of the literary device synecdoche. Synecdoche means using a part of something to describe its whole. Here, the Danish girls are represented by "their white throats and their pink cheeks". Other examples of synecdoche are using the word "suit" to represent a businessman, or saying "sails" when talking about an entire ship. 
What does this statement imply? 
Poor Richard's Almanack (the more modern spelling is Almanac) was a series of informative pamphlets written by Benjamin Franklin. They included practical information (such as when to plant different crops) and entertaining stories and puzzles. (This annotation contains an image)
What are some possible reasons for Jim's preference for the hired girls, as opposed to town girls of his own age? 
Annapolis is the capital of Maryland, but more notably, it is where the United States Naval Academy is. It is reasonable that adolescent Jim feels restless and that Charley's being in the military makes him feel like he needs to get on with his life, too. 
What literary device is NOT present in this highlighted section? 
The phrase "my Ántonia" is repeated, in various contexts, throughout the novel. Think about who refers to Ántonia this way, and in what circumstances. What is the effect of this repetition? 
This act shows how dutiful Jim is. Though giving up the dances will mean depriving himself of his chief hobby, he does so without hesitation. In what other ways does Jim show his sense of duty? 
Which of the novel's themes does this section most closely speak to? 
The word "buzz" is an example of the literary device onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia is when a word sounds like the thing it represents. Other examples of onomatopoeia are "boom" and "snap". 
In what ways is My Ántonia a love story? Who or what does Jim love? Cite evidence from the text to support your response.  
In what ways does Lena's grandfather's experience mirror Jim's? 
This paragraph offers more than just vivid imagery. The plough contains a great deal of symbolic value here. Ploughs represent man's attempts to live off of the land and to tame wild landscapes. They also symbolize the farmer in general, and agricultural life. Lastly, the giant plough, magnified and illuminated by the setting sun, symbolizes the insignificance of man, and how small humans are in the grand scheme of nature. To learn more about symbols and symbolism, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
What is the tone of this paragraph? 
A poultice is cloth, herbs or even bread that is heated and placed onto the body for medicinal purposes. (This annotation contains an image)


Lincoln is the capital city of Nebraska. It is also where the University of Nebraska is located. Notice that Jim keeps moving to bigger and bigger cities. What will come next? Think back to the introduction! (This annotation contains an image)
Has Jim's fundamental personality changed over the course of the novel, or have his surroundings just changed? Use textual evidence to back up your claims. 
The Aeneid is one of the most famous Latin works of literature. Written between 29 and 19 BCE, this epic poem by Virgil describes the wanderings and adventures of a Trojan hero named Aeneas. The poem deals with the themes of destiny, fate, conflict and violence. In the picture below, Virgil reads the Aeneid to Augustus and Octavia, the Roman emperor and his sister. (This annotation contains an image)
Which option best describes Jim and Lena's relationship? 
"Rip Van Winkle" is a short story by American author Washington Irving. In it, Rip Van Winkle, a lazy drunk, goes off into the forest with his dog, drinks some moonshine with some mysterious strangers and falls asleep. As it turns out, he wakes up about two decades later. While he was sleeping the American Revolution happened, which places this story in the late 1700s. When he returns to town all of his friends are dead, and pre-revolutionary America as he knew it no longer exists. The story is in large part a commentary on the rapid changes American underwent during the years leading up to and after the Revolution. One way in which this story relates to "My Ántonia" is that it also explores gender roles. In "Rip Van Winkle," Rip is goofy and carefree, while his wife ends up having to make all the tough decisions and do all of the hard work to keep her family afloat. (This annotation contains an image)
This highlighted passage contains which  of the following literary devices? 
Jonquils are similar to daffodils. They are native to Southern Europe and Northern Africa. (This annotation contains an image)
In what ways does Lena's character challenge established gender roles? 
"Noblesse oblige" is a French saying that literally translates to "nobility obliges". Essentially, it means that anyone who claims to be noble must behave nobly. In other words, one should act according to his or her position in life. 
How does Lena represent the American Dream? Use textual evidence to back up your claims. 
This interaction highlights Lena's intelligence. She may not have a formal education, but she is articulate and knows how to get what she wants. This stands in contrast to Jim, who is highly educated but does not "know" himself the way Lena knows herself and her own desire. 
In your opinion, why is this chapter called "Lena Lingard," and not "Lincoln"? 
Part Two Quiz 


This statement implies that all establishments meant to serve sailors eventually become brothels. 
What is the effect of knowing that Tiny will be successful before you actually read her story? 
How do the Widow Steavens and her brother parallel Jim's grandparents? 
In earlier times, it was common for the bride to bring houseware such as linens and kitchenware. This is why Ántonia is doing so much sewing with the Widow Steavens.  
How would you characterize the Widow Steavens's narrative style? 
This fact is fairly symbolic. Given that Ántonia immediately goes back to doing a man's work on the farm, the stashing away of her pretty dresses may represent an end to her forays into femininity.  
Certainly, the people of Black Hawk view Lena and Ántonia as fundamentally different. Compare and contrast these two characters: in what ways are they similar? In what ways do they differ from one another? Use textual evidence to back up your claims. 
Note this nod to nostalgia. The entire novel is based around the idea of reminiscing about and perhaps glorifying the old days, but this sentence in particular highlights Jim's need to remember and connect to the past. 


How has country life changed for Ántonia since her childhood? 
Notice that Ántonia has named her children after important people from her past. Anton is named for Anton Jelinek, Yulka is named for Ántonia's sister, and Nina is named after Nina Harling. What is the significance of Ántonia's having chosen these particular people to name her kids after? Do you think there will/should be a child named after Jim? 
Hollyhocks are flowering plants that grown in a variety of bright colors. While the Nebraska landscape has been characterized as colorful from the beginning of this novel, the colors used at the beginning of the novel tended to be subdued colors: red grasses, blue sky, etcetera. Now with hollyhocks and other additions to people's farms there are brilliant colors like purple and yellow, too. Is this change symbolic? (This annotation contains an image)
How has the land changed over the course of this novel? 
How would you classify Jim's love for Ántonia? 
Kolaches are a traditional Czech (formerly Bohemian) food. They are pastries filled with fruit or seeds. (This annotation contains an image)
Everyone seems to have an opinion of how the hired girls's lives have turned out. In your opinion, is Ántonia successful? Why or why not? 
In some ways, Leo is a foil for Jim. Leo is rambunctious, a bit undisciplined and knows exactly what he wants. Jim, on the other hand, has always been serious and passive. 
Wienn (generally spelled Wien, and pronounced VEEN) is the German name for Vienna, the capital of Austria. (This annotation contains an image)
What aspects of this scene make it clear that it takes place in the late 1800s or early 1900s? 
The equation of different lifestyles with loneliness is a recurring motif in this novel. Jim finds life in Black Hawk to be lonely at times, the country can be lonely for Cuzak, Lena relishes the loneliness of city life in Lincoln. To learn more about motifs and how they differ from themes, please watch the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
Take a moment to reflect that this novel, though narrated by Jim, was written by a woman. In your opinion, does Willa Cather succeed in creating a believable character and narrator in Jim Burden? Use textual evidence to back up your claims. 
Part Three Quiz