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Later Chapters: 4 More Questions for Conversation

[ Edited ]
Later Chapters:

4 More Questions for Conversation

1. Ántonia as a Lonely Heroine
Near the end of the book, Mrs. Steavens marvels that Ántonia (the heroine of this novel, a woman with a pure heart) suffers a less fulfilling life than the “bad girls” do: “My Antonia, that had so much good in her, had come home disgraced. And that Lena Lingard, that was always a bad one, say what you will, had turned out so well…. I give credit where credit is due, but you know well enough, Jim Burden, there is a great difference in the principles of those two girls.”
Why do you think Cather gave Lena and Ántonia their different fates?
Do you admire Ántonia?
Keeping in mind Cather’s love of classical heroes, what kind of “hero” is Ántonia?

2. Lost Love between Jim and Ántonia
Why doesn’t Jim Burden propose to Ántonia when they have grown up, instead of going off to law school? What stops their romance, and why does it remain unfulfilled? Is Jim’s point of view on this subject reliable and accurate?

3. Sex and Strength
Recently Willa Cather’s sexual orientation has become a matter of scholarly exploration. Do you believe that Cather’s sexual orientation has left traces in this novel? What is the nature of this influence, if it exists, and how does it affect your interpretation of the novel?

4. Missing Cather's Gift?
Of Cather's career as a writer, the poet Wallace Stevens wrote: "We have nothing better than she is. She takes so much pains to conceal her sophistication that it is easy to miss her quality." Do you agree? How do you think this estimation of her style and achievements applies to My Antonia in particular?

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 04-26-200706:00 PM




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Book I, Chapter 11: X-mas

[ Edited ]
Cather sets Christmas in Book I, Chapter 11.
Snow falls over everything here - disguising Nebraska. Now everyone - rich and poor - lives in a singe world of white.

The storm binds the poor and rich. Jim's family, who would normally go to town to get expensive decorations and gifts, now have to make do with what they have. Because they can't travel, "we [had] to have a country Christmas," Jim says, “without any help from town.”

Cather gives a Christian message in this chapter: Take away what money can give you, and the poor are just like the rich. Can you notice anything about this Christmas interlude worth mentioning?

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 05-05-200704:03 PM




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Beauty and Danger in Nature

[ Edited ]
I think Cather often presents Nature as being a duality between beauty and danger.

In Book I, Chapter 15, Mr. Shimerda has just killed himself, but Otto is outside building a coffin. "All afternoon," Cather writes, "wherever one went in the house, one could hear the panting wheeze of the saw or the pleasant purring of the plane. They were such cheerful noises, seeming to promise new things for living people: it was a pity that those freshly planed pine boards were to be put underground so soon. The…boards gave off a sweet smell of pine woods.... I wondered why Fuchs had not stuck to cabinet-work, he settled down to it with such ease and content."

Cather makes even the construction of a coffin sing with music. Have you noticed other spots in which beauty is mixed with danger or death?

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 05-05-200704:05 PM




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Antonia's Values

In Book II, Chapter VI, Jim gets close to naming exactly what's admirable about Antonia. She's moved in with the Harlings, and Jim describes Antonia's beauty: her ability to stay close to what's "natural," to love life, to produce good things. What do you make of this snapshot? Is it too idealistic, or just right? Do you think Jim ever idealizes the poor?

"There was a basic harmony between Antonia and her mistress. They had strong, independent natures, both of them. They knew what they liked, and were not always trying to imitate other people. They loved children and animals and music, and rough play and digging in the earth. They liked to prepare rich, hearty food and to see people eat it; to make up soft white beds and to see youngsters asleep in them. They ridiculed conceited people and were quick to help unfortunate ones. Deep down in each of them there was a kind of hearty joviality, a relish of life, not over-delicate, but very invigorating. I never tried to define it, but I was distinctly conscious of it. I could not imagine Antonia's living for a week in any other house in Black Hawk than the Harlings'."



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Re: Antonia's Values

[ Edited ]
I think we are reading a description of what makes a woman who is happy being "just" a mother and a homemaker happy and valuable and an adornment to a family.



IlanaSimons wrote:
In Book II, Chapter VI, Jim gets close to naming exactly what's admirable about Antonia. She's moved in with the Harlings, and Jim describes Antonia's beauty: her ability to stay close to what's "natural," to love life, to produce good things. What do you make of this snapshot? Is it too idealistic, or just right? Do you think Jim ever idealizes the poor?

"There was a basic harmony between Antonia and her mistress. They had strong, independent natures, both of them. They knew what they liked, and were not always trying to imitate other people. They loved children and animals and music, and rough play and digging in the earth. They liked to prepare rich, hearty food and to see people eat it; to make up soft white beds and to see youngsters asleep in them. They ridiculed conceited people and were quick to help unfortunate ones. Deep down in each of them there was a kind of hearty joviality, a relish of life, not over-delicate, but very invigorating. I never tried to define it, but I was distinctly conscious of it. I could not imagine Antonia's living for a week in any other house in Black Hawk than the Harlings'."

Message Edited by Laurel on 05-05-200702:36 PM

"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Snakes and Sex discussion, continued from the "early chapters" thread. **plot spolier**

[ Edited ]
In the Early Chapters thread, I started to describe Gordon Tapper's introduction to the B&N Classics Edition, in which he interprets the snake in Book 1 Chapter 7 as a symbol. Tapper essentially says that when Jim kills the snake, he also purges sexuality from his relationship with Antonia. In the Bible, Tapper writes, a snake tempts Adam and Eve; here the snake is killed off. “In Cather's version,” Tapper writes, “Jim kills off the serpent before it has the chance to tempt Antonia, which perhaps means that our protagonists will be more fortunate than their ancient forebears - or is it less? - and not be expelled from their prairie garden, their innocent pastoral romance."

Tapper's saying that throughout the book, Jim and Antonia enjoy a sort of Eden before the Fall - a male-female bond free of actual sex. From that first scene, in which Jim and Antonia go out into the woods because, as Jim says, “I was a boy and she was a girl” and he’s shocked by the “abominable muscularity” of the snake, Jim escapes the traditional role of the male. He is manly when he kills the snake, but we should also remember that it’s his grandmother who taught him how to kill off a snake, with the stick she wore dangling from her own belt. Later in the book, Jim tells Antonia that their Eden had been love without the dictates of sex: “I’d have liked to have you for a sweetheart, or a wife, or my mother or my sister – anything that a woman can be to a man” (192). So they do enjoy a love that's deeper than the sexual roles of man and wife.

Tapper also ties the snake incident to the incident in which Jim stays in Cutters’ house in place of Antonia, when Cutter’s acting strange. In the scene when Cutter comes home to rape Antonia, he finds Jim in the bed instead. This is a gender-bender which emasculates Jim in a way. He has again found himself in the role of a woman, being taken advantage of in the bed. Jim’s ashamed and begs his grandmother to tell no one, because he is afraid of what “the old men down at the drugstore” would think. (Tapper, xxx).

So Tapper’s just asking us to look at how sex is slain in the book. I think it’s a neat theory. Any thoughts?

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 05-06-200705:04 PM




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Re: Later Chapters: 4 More Questions for Conversation Could be a SPOILER

When I first read this book a few years back I thought this way and I still do.
I think Cather is using Jim as a narrater but she is really speaking of herself and the love she had for someone like Antonia. She didn't join Jim and Antonia together because she loved this person from a distance. She admired everything about her but because of when the story takes place, it was unheard of to be a lesbian or even to declare love for the same sex.
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Re: Later Chapters: 4 More Questions for Conversation



IlanaSimons wrote:
Later Chapters:

4 More Questions for Conversation

1. Ántonia as a Lonely Heroine
Near the end of the book, Mrs. Steavens marvels that Ántonia (the heroine of this novel, a woman with a pure heart) suffers a less fulfilling life than the “bad girls” do: “My Antonia, that had so much good in her, had come home disgraced. And that Lena Lingard, that was always a bad one, say what you will, had turned out so well…. I give credit where credit is due, but you know well enough, Jim Burden, there is a great difference in the principles of those two girls.”
Why do you think Cather gave Lena and Ántonia their different fates?
Do you admire Ántonia?
Keeping in mind Cather’s love of classical heroes, what kind of “hero” is Ántonia?

2. Lost Love between Jim and Ántonia
Why doesn’t Jim Burden propose to Ántonia when they have grown up, instead of going off to law school? What stops their romance, and why does it remain unfulfilled? Is Jim’s point of view on this subject reliable and accurate?

3. Sex and Strength
Recently Willa Cather’s sexual orientation has become a matter of scholarly exploration. Do you believe that Cather’s sexual orientation has left traces in this novel? What is the nature of this influence, if it exists, and how does it affect your interpretation of the novel?

4. Missing Cather's Gift?
Of Cather's career as a writer, the poet Wallace Stevens wrote: "We have nothing better than she is. She takes so much pains to conceal her sophistication that it is easy to miss her quality." Do you agree? How do you think this estimation of her style and achievements applies to My Antonia in particular?

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 04-26-200706:00 PM






I do not feel she looses any of her gaulity at all. She has such a gift of description. She could make a desert into a paradise setting just with her words.
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Re: Antonia Seen from a Distance

I also think it's interesting that we know Antonia from a distance.
When Jim goes back to find her in the end of the book, he doesn’t get Antonia’s story directly, but hears it through the Widow Steavens’ reporting. In this scene, Cather gives Antonia a heroic halo: Her story is echoed by those who witnessed it.

About 20 years earlier in his Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad used the same technique. Conrad’s reader gets the story of the strange dark, hero, Kurtz, only through the narrator's retrospective telling, on a boat.

(Antonia's whole story is twice removed. What we're supposedly reading is the written record Jim gave to a friend, to honor a woman he loved.)

What does anyone make of this framing of the story, in which Antonia is kept at a distance?



kiakar wrote:
I think Cather is using Jim as a narrater but she is really speaking of herself and the love she had for someone like Antonia. She didn't join Jim and Antonia together because she loved this person from a distance. She admired everything about her but because of when the story takes place, it was unheard of to be a lesbian or even to declare love for the same sex.





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Re: Later Chapters: Antonia the hero

[ Edited ]

IlanaSimons wrote:
Later Chapters:

4 More Questions for Conversation

1. Ántonia as a Lonely Heroine
Near the end of the book, Mrs. Steavens marvels that Ántonia (the heroine of this novel, a woman with a pure heart) suffers a less fulfilling life than the “bad girls” do: “My Antonia, that had so much good in her, had come home disgraced. And that Lena Lingard, that was always a bad one, say what you will, had turned out so well…. I give credit where credit is due, but you know well enough, Jim Burden, there is a great difference in the principles of those two girls.”
Why do you think Cather gave Lena and Ántonia their different fates?
Do you admire Ántonia?
Keeping in mind Cather’s love of classical heroes, what kind of “hero” is Ántonia?




I think it is important for Cather that Antonia remains part of the land. If fact I think Antonia's beauty, danger, and resilience echo the land, even after twenty years when careworn from hard work and eleven children. It would be difficult not to admire her.

I see Antonia as an archetype for a folk hero. Although there was something tragic about her ill-fated romance, illegitimate child, and love being her Achilles heel, it didn't destroy her. She rose above it to almost legendary proportions given the way Jim and the writer first spoke about her on the train.

Message Edited by CallMeLeo on 05-08-200705:14 PM

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Re: Later Chapters: Antonia the hero

[ Edited ]

CallMeLeo wrote:
Although there was something tragic about her ill-fated romance, illegitimate child, and love being her Achilles heel, it didn't destroy her. She rose above it to almost legendary proportions given the way Jim and the writer first spoke about her on the train.


Great comment. I hadn't thought about love being her Achilles heel, because I’ve been thinking of her as a woman free of simply sexual desire. But you’re right: She is a romantic, too. Lena and Tiny Soderball are more hard-edged: They go off and make money, without a need to build families. Antonia misses out on their financial fortune; she falls for the land and for love.

Also: you make a great observation about the legendary feeling to her. The book begins with a tunneling vision on the train, in which we get Antonia from afar. And then we finally return to Antonia in the end, with the far-off reporting from Widow Steavens. Antonia gets praise from her distant onlookers.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 05-08-200709:01 PM




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Re: Antonia's Values



Laurel wrote:
I think we are reading a description of what makes a woman who is happy being "just" a mother and a homemaker happy and valuable and an adornment to a family.



IlanaSimons wrote:
In Book II, Chapter VI, Jim gets close to naming exactly what's admirable about Antonia. She's moved in with the Harlings, and Jim describes Antonia's beauty: her ability to stay close to what's "natural," to love life, to produce good things. What do you make of this snapshot? Is it too idealistic, or just right? Do you think Jim ever idealizes the poor?

"There was a basic harmony between Antonia and her mistress. They had strong, independent natures, both of them. They knew what they liked, and were not always trying to imitate other people. They loved children and animals and music, and rough play and digging in the earth. They liked to prepare rich, hearty food and to see people eat it; to make up soft white beds and to see youngsters asleep in them. They ridiculed conceited people and were quick to help unfortunate ones. Deep down in each of them there was a kind of hearty joviality, a relish of life, not over-delicate, but very invigorating. I never tried to define it, but I was distinctly conscious of it. I could not imagine Antonia's living for a week in any other house in Black Hawk than the Harlings'."

Message Edited by Laurel on 05-05-200702:36 PM






This is it in a nutshell, Antonia's Values are simply to be happy and fulfilled. Not famous or wealthy and she was being what she was. A housewife, mother and wife doing the things she loved best. Antonia was not a failure by no means. She fulfilled the desires of her heart. this is not measured by the materilistic value you end up with but how much love in your heart for others and yourself at the end of your life.
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Re: Later Chapters: Antonia the hero



CallMeLeo wrote:

IlanaSimons wrote:
Later Chapters:

4 More Questions for Conversation

1. Ántonia as a Lonely Heroine
Near the end of the book, Mrs. Steavens marvels that Ántonia (the heroine of this novel, a woman with a pure heart) suffers a less fulfilling life than the “bad girls” do: “My Antonia, that had so much good in her, had come home disgraced. And that Lena Lingard, that was always a bad one, say what you will, had turned out so well…. I give credit where credit is due, but you know well enough, Jim Burden, there is a great difference in the principles of those two girls.”
Why do you think Cather gave Lena and Ántonia their different fates?
Do you admire Ántonia?
Keeping in mind Cather’s love of classical heroes, what kind of “hero” is Ántonia?




I think it is important for Cather that Antonia remains part of the land. If fact I think Antonia's beauty, danger, and resilience echo the land, even after twenty years when careworn from hard work and eleven children. It would be difficult not to admire her.

I see Antonia as an archetype for a folk hero. Although there was something tragic about her ill-fated romance, illegitimate child, and love being her Achilles heel, it didn't destroy her. She rose above it to almost legendary proportions given the way Jim and the writer first spoke about her on the train.

Message Edited by CallMeLeo on 05-08-200705:14 PM






I do believe that what makes this book a classic and what makes it so geniune and unigue is the descriptions Cather gives of the land and the surroundings of the place her character Antonia loved and adored and wanted always to stay in this place.Never caring of riches of fame only the beauty of nature surrounding her.
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Re: Later Chapters: Antonia the hero



IlanaSimons wrote:

CallMeLeo wrote:
Although there was something tragic about her ill-fated romance, illegitimate child, and love being her Achilles heel, it didn't destroy her. She rose above it to almost legendary proportions given the way Jim and the writer first spoke about her on the train.


Great comment. I hadn't thought about love being her Achilles heel, because I’ve been thinking of her as a woman free of simply sexual desire. But you’re right: She is a romantic, too. Lena and Tiny Soderball are more hard-edged: They go off and make money, without a need to build families. Antonia misses out on their financial fortune; she falls for the land and for love.

Also: you make a great observation about the legendary feeling to her. The book begins with a tunneling vision on the train, in which we get Antonia from afar. And then we finally return to Antonia in the end, with the far-off reporting from Widow Steavens. Antonia gets praise from her distant onlookers.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 05-08-200709:01 PM






Also Cather could be emphasizing what is important in her life, not wealth or fame as Tiny and Lena looked at it but nature, beauty and love.
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Re: Beauty and Danger in Nature



IlanaSimons wrote:
I think Cather often presents Nature as being a duality between beauty and danger.

In Book I, Chapter 15, Mr. Shimerda has just killed himself, but Otto is outside building a coffin. "All afternoon," Cather writes, "wherever one went in the house, one could hear the panting wheeze of the saw or the pleasant purring of the plane. They were such cheerful noises, seeming to promise new things for living people: it was a pity that those freshly planed pine boards were to be put underground so soon. The…boards gave off a sweet smell of pine woods.... I wondered why Fuchs had not stuck to cabinet-work, he settled down to it with such ease and content."

Cather makes even the construction of a coffin sing with music. Have you noticed other spots in which beauty is mixed with danger or death?

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 05-05-200704:05 PM






Its like saying that beauty is everywhere if you look for it. No Matter the sorrow you have or have to face later on, or the threat of danger, beauty in nature is always there amongst you that will ease the pain and suffering.
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Re: Later Chapters: 4 More Questions for Conversation

The reason Jim didnt end up in a romance or marrying Antonia, I believe it just wasn't meant to be in the story that Cather wrote. It was like, something you really really desire but do not go near it for many reasons. It wouldn't work out, for obvious reasons. It could be the kind of life they both wanted was so foreign to the other. And in Cather's mind, maybe Antonia was to far to reach, not detainable in this life.
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Re: Later Chapters: Antonia the hero



kiakar wrote:

Also Cather could be emphasizing what is important in her life, not wealth or fame as Tiny and Lena looked at it but nature, beauty and love.




Well said. I also think that Cather values the ability to speak honestly about our emotions. She admires people with the intelligence and confidence to know and speak what they feel. An example: Did anyone pick up on Antonia's disabled brother Marek? When we first meet him, he's struggling to please everyone. "Marek was always trying to be agreeable, poor fellow, as if he had it on his mind that he must make up for his deficiencies," Cather writes. And then late in the book, we hear he's lost it: "Poor Marek had got violent and been sent away to an institution a good while back."
It's as if Cather's saying that if you can't express your true desires (if you live to please others) your frustration will come out later, in less "natural" ways, in violence.



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Re: Later Chapters: On being honest about who you are

Another post about honesty:
We get a glimpse at what Cather values in Book 4, when we hear about Larry, the father of Antonia's first child.
Cather sets up a juxtaposition in Chapter 2: There's Larry, who's always trying to look better than he is, and there's Antonia, who represents herself directly, flaws and all.

Larry hides his job from other people. Embarrassed of being a blue collar worker, he wants to save face, and presents a different identity: After work, "Larry...went directly into the station and changed his clothes. It was a matter of the utmost importance to him never to be seen in his blue trousers away from his train,” Cather writes.

In the very same chapter, we hear that Antonia has posted pictures of her illegitimate baby in the photographer's display case. She knows the display might bring criticism, but she’s proud of her baby regardless. "Another girl would have kept her baby out of sight, but Tony, of course, must have its picture on exhibition at the town photographer's, in a great gilt frame. How like her!" Jim thinks.

Antonia is honest about what she has and who she is; Larry performs an identity.



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Re: Later Chapters: Antonia the hero



IlanaSimons wrote:


kiakar wrote:

Also Cather could be emphasizing what is important in her life, not wealth or fame as Tiny and Lena looked at it but nature, beauty and love.




Well said. I also think that Cather values the ability to speak honestly about our emotions. She admires people with the intelligence and confidence to know and speak what they feel. An example: Did anyone pick up on Antonia's disabled brother Marek? When we first meet him, he's struggling to please everyone. "Marek was always trying to be agreeable, poor fellow, as if he had it on his mind that he must make up for his deficiencies," Cather writes. And then late in the book, we hear he's lost it: "Poor Marek had got violent and been sent away to an institution a good while back."
It's as if Cather's saying that if you can't express your true desires (if you live to please others) your frustration will come out later, in less "natural" ways, in violence.





That is so true, Ilana. It goes to being true to yourself again. You have to be satisfied with yourself before you make it good for someone else. This book makes me respect Cather for her caring and emotional characterics she sprinkles through out her books.
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Re: Beauty and Danger in Nature

[ Edited ]

kiakar wrote:

beauty is everywhere if you look for it. No Matter the sorrow you have or have to face later on, or the threat of danger, beauty in nature is always there amongst you that will ease the pain and suffering.




Yes. And Cather thinks Nature has a real balance of dark and light. Winter reminds you, she says, that "naturalness" is also spiked with its dark side:

Winter is harsh. "The pale, cold light of the winter sunset did not beautify--it was like the light of truth itself. When the smoky clouds hung low in the west and the red sun went down behind them, leaving a pink flush on the snowy roofs and the blue drifts, then the wind sprang up afresh, with a kind of bitter song, as if it said: `This is reality, whether you like it or not. All those frivolities of summer, the light and shadow, the living mask of green that trembled over everything, they were lies, and this is what was underneath. This is the truth.' It was as if we were being punished for loving the loveliness of summer."

So Nature teaches lessons about the balance between highs and lows.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 05-12-200705:08 PM




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