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My Antonia (Barnes & Noble Edition)

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Overview

“No romantic novel ever written in America . . . is one half so beautiful as My Ántonia.”
—H. L. Mencken

Widely recognized as Willa Cather’s greatest novel, My Ántonia is a soulful and rich portrait of a pioneer woman’s simple yet heroic life. The spirited daughter of Bohemian immigrants, Ántonia must adapt to a hard existence on the desolate prairies of the Midwest. Enduring childhood poverty, teenage seduction, and family tragedy, she ...

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Overview

“No romantic novel ever written in America . . . is one half so beautiful as My Ántonia.”
—H. L. Mencken

Widely recognized as Willa Cather’s greatest novel, My Ántonia is a soulful and rich portrait of a pioneer woman’s simple yet heroic life. The spirited daughter of Bohemian immigrants, Ántonia must adapt to a hard existence on the desolate prairies of the Midwest. Enduring childhood poverty, teenage seduction, and family tragedy, she eventually becomes a wife and mother on a Nebraska farm. A fictional record of how women helped forge the communities that formed a nation, My Ántonia is also a hauntingly eloquent celebration of the strength, courage, and spirit of America’s early pioneers.

Gordon Tapper is Assistant Professor of English at DePauw University. He is the author of The Machine That Sings: Modernism, Hart Crane, and the Culture of the Body, from Routledge.

Willa Cather's masterful portrait of prairie culture, based on her own life. Against Nebraska's panoramic landscape, Cather recreates the life of an immigrant girl who becomes, in the memories of narrator Jim Burden, the epitome of strong and dignifed womanhood.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Classics offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.
From Barnes & Noble
A masterful story of primitive themes told with elegance and affection, this novel depicts the violent yet inspiring existence of the foreign and native-born settlers to Nebraska in the early years of this century. Considered by the author to be her best work.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566194877
  • Publisher: Sterling Publishing
  • Publication date: 6/15/1994
  • Pages: 266

Meet the Author

Willa Cather
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Willa Cather once famously observed, "The end is nothing; the road is all." Cather herself made the most of the road she traveled, wearing an indelible literary path studded with classic American novels from O Pioneers! to My Ántonia.

Biography

Wilella Sibert Cather was born on December 7, 1873, in the small Virginia farming community of Winchester. When she was ten years old, her parents moved the family to the prairies of Nebraska, where her father opened a farm mortgage and insurance business. Home-schooled before enrolling in the local high school, Cather had a mind of her own, changing her given name to Willa and adopting a variation of her grandmother's maiden name, Seibert, as her middle name.

During Cather's studies at the University of Nebraska, she worked as a drama critic to support herself and published her first piece of short fiction, "Peter," in a Boston magazine. After graduation, her love of music and intellectual pursuits inspired her to move to Pittsburgh, where she edited the family magazine Home Monthly, wrote theater criticism for the Pittsburgh Daily Leader, and taught English and Latin in local high schools. Cather's big break came with the publication of her first short story collection, The Troll Garden (1905). The following year she moved to New York City to work for McClure's Magazine as a writer and eventually the magazine's managing editor.

Considered one of the great figures of early-twentieth-century American literature, Willa Cather derived much of her inspiration from the American Midwest, which she considered her home. Never married, she cherished her many friendships, some of which she had maintained since childhood. Her intimate coterie of women writers and artists motivated Cather to produce some of her best work. Sarah Orne Jewett, a successful author from Maine whom Cather had met during her McClure's years, inspired her to devote herself full-time to creating literature and to write about her childhood, which she did in several novels of the prairies. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for her novel about World War I, called One of Ours.

She won many other awards, including a gold medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Prix Femina Americaine. On April 24, 1947, two years after publishing her last novel, Willa Cather died in New York City of a cerebral hemorrhage. Among Cather's other accomplishments were honorary doctorate degrees from Columbia, Princeton, and Yale Universities.

Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of O, Pioneers!.

Good To Know

When Cather first arrived at the University of Nebraska, she dressed as William Cather, her opposite sex twin.

Cather was the first woman voted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame, in 1961.

She spent forty years of her life with her companion, Edith Lewis, in New York City.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Wilella Sibert Cather (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 7, 1873
    2. Place of Birth:
      Winchester, Virginia
    1. Date of Death:
      April 27, 1947
    2. Place of Death:
      New York, New York

Read an Excerpt

From Gordon Tapper's Introduction to My Ántonia

In one of Jewett's most important letters to Cather, she addresses the relationship between fiction and its autobiographical sources in words that would resonate deeply with the narrative design of My Ántonia. Jewett was concerned that Cather had not yet learned to see her "backgrounds . . . from the outside,—you stand right in the middle of each of them when you write, without having the standpoint of the looker-on" (quoted in Lee, p. 22). In My Ántonia, Cather makes just this kind of effort to see her experience "from the outside" by inventing Jim Burden, the transformed version of herself who serves as the first-person narrator. In addition to giving Jim many of her own experiences, Cather sets him on a journey into his past that echoes the imaginative reconstruction of her own childhood. In the introduction that establishes the narrative framework for My Ántonia, we learn that Jim is a very successful middle-aged man—"legal counsel for one of the great Western railways"—living in New York. Like Cather, who also lived most of her adult life in Manhattan, he is therefore geographically and culturally remote from his small-town origins. As Jewett suggested, Cather's appreciation for her provincial "parish" would be made possible by her knowledge of the wider world, and Cather places Jim in a similar position. But if Jim represents a fictional alter ego who allows Cather to observe her own return to the past from the "standpoint of the looker-on," Cather begins the novel by very explicitly distinguishing herself from her narrator.

Cather revisits her Nebraska childhood in several of her early novels, but it is only in My Ántonia that she creates an intriguing dialogue between herself and one of her characters, which occurs in a brief introductory section of the novel. Instead of writing from the point of view of Jim, as she does everywhere else in the novel, Cather adopts the voice of a first-person narrator who meets Jim by chance aboard a train. Although she never names this speaker, Cather suggests that it is yet another version of herself, since she very unobtrusively reveals that the narrator is both a woman and an experienced writer. (In order to distinguish Cather the author from this female narrator, who never reappears in the novel proper, many critics refer to the narrator as "Cather.") The narrator and Jim are old friends who grew up together in a small Nebraska town, and during their reminiscences they talk fondly of Ántonia, who "seemed to mean to us the country, the conditions, the whole adventure of our childhood".

Although Jim and the narrator agree that Ántonia somehow embodies the essence of their childhood, their individual relationships to her differ in several critical ways. Unlike the narrator, who has lost touch with her, Jim has reestablished a close friendship with Ántonia. When Jim expresses his surprise that the narrator has "never written anything about Ántonia," the narrator confesses that she had never known Ántonia as well as he had. The two then agree that they will both try recording their memories of this "central figure" of their past. Jim cautions, however, that he is not a practiced writer (implying that "Cather" is) and will therefore have to write about Ántonia "in a direct way, and say a great deal about myself. It's through myself that I knew and felt her". In response, the narrator draws attention to the distinction between their male and female perspectives:

I told him that how he knew her and felt her was exactly what I
most wanted to know about Ántonia. He had had opportunities that I, as
a little girl who watched her come and go, had not.
On one level, the narrator is simply trying to reassure Jim that there is nothing wrong with writing about himself in the process of remembering Ántonia, but Cather also seems to be offering an indirect justification for adopting a male persona in her novel. Behind the essentially transparent mask of "Cather" the narrator, Cather the author is asserting that the female perspective of "a little girl" will not do Ántonia justice, because it does not allow her to understand Ántonia as the object of someone's desire. Cather thought of Ántonia as her heroine, yet she gives the reader very little access to Ántonia's inner life, which is only conveyed secondhand through Jim's perspective. By allowing Jim to control the narrative, Cather distances the reader from Ántonia, but it is precisely because Cather wants to imagine a man's feelings for Ántonia that she wrote the novel from a man's point of view.
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Reading Group Guide

1. For discussion: My Antonia

The first narrator in My Antonia is an unnamed speaker who grew up with Jim Burden and meets him years later on a train. Jim tells his story in response to this mysterious figure, who disappears from the novel as soon as the Introduction is over. How does this first narrator's disappearance foreshadow other withdrawals within this novel, which at times resembles a series of departures? Why might Cather have chosen to frame her narrative in this fashion?

2. When Jim arrives in Nebraska, he sees "nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made." [11-12] Yet at the novel's end that landscape is differentiated. It has direction and color--red grass, blue sky, dun-shaded bluffs. We are reminded of the beginning of the Book of Genesis, and of God's parting of the heavens from the earth. To what extent is My Antonia an American Genesis? What are its agents of creation and differentiation?

3. Just as My Antonia's setting is initially raw and featureless, its narrative at first seems haphazard: "'I didn't arrange or rearrange. I simply wrote down what of herself and myself and other people's Antonia's name recalls to me. I suppose it hasn't any form.'" [6] Is Burden's description really accurate? Although the narrative proceeds chronologically, its structure is unconventional, as Antonia is present in only three of the five sections and much of her story unfolds via exposition. What effect does Cather produce by telling her story in this fashion?

4. One of the greatest difficulties facing the Shimerdas and other immigrant families is that posed by their lack ofEnglish, which seals them off from all but the most forthcoming of their neighbors. Yet even American-born arrivals to Nebraska find themselves set apart. As the narrator notes in the Introduction, "no one who had not grown up in a little prairie town could know anything about it. It was a kind of freemasonry, we said." [3] What is the nature of this freemasonry? What experiences do the inhabitants of this world share that are alien--and perhaps incommunicable--to people raised elsewhere? Does the shared experience of the novel's pioneers end up counting for more than their linguistic and ethnic differences?

5. What is it that makes Mr. Shimerda unable to adapt to his new home and ultimately drives him to suicide? Is he simply too refined--too rooted in Europe--to endure the harshness and solitude of the prairie? Before we jump to too easy a conclusion, we might consider the fact that the novel's other suicide, Wick Cutter, is a crass, upwardly mobile small-town entrepreneur. What do these two deaths suggest about the prerequisites for surviving in Cather's world?

6. From their first meeting, when Jim begins to teach Antonia English, he serves as her instructor and occasional guardian. Yet he also seems in awe of Antonia. What is it that makes her superior to him? What does she possess that Jim doesn't? What makes her difference so desirable?

7. At times Jim's feelings towards Antonia suggest romantic infatuation, yet their relationship remains chaste. Nor does Jim ever become sexually involved with the alluring--and more available--Lena Lingard. Curiously, Antonia appears to disapprove of their flirtation. And, whether he is conscious of it or not, Jim seems wedded to the idea of Tony as a sexual innocent. Following the failed assault by Wick Cutter, "I hated her almost as much as I hated Cutter. She had let me in for all this disgustingness." [186] How do you account for these characters' ambivalent and at times squeamish attitude toward sexuality? In what ways do they change when they marry and--in Antonia's case--bear children?

8. Just as it is possible to read Lena Lingard as Antonia's sensual twin, one can see the entire novel as consisting of doubles and repetitions. Antonia has two brothers, the industrious and amoral Ambrosch and the sweet-natured, mentally incompetent Marek. Wick Cutter's suicide echoes that of Mr. Shimerda. Even minor anecdotes have a way of mirroring each other. Just as the Russians Peter and Pavel are stigmatized because they threw a bride to a pursuing wolf pack, the hired hand Otto is burdened by an act of generosity on his voyage over to America, when the woman he is escorting ends up giving birth to triplets. Where else in the novel do events and characters mirror each other? What is the effect of this symmetry and its variations?

9. In one of her essays, Willa Cather observed, "I have not much faith in women in fiction." [cited in Hermione Lee, Willa Cather: Double Lives. New York, Vintage, 1991, p. 12] Yet in Antonia Cather has created a genuinely heroic woman. What perceived defects in earlier fictional heroines might Cather be trying to redeem in this novel? Do her female characters seem nobler, better, or more deeply felt than their male counterparts? In spite of this, why might Cather have chosen to make My Antonia' s narrator a man?

10. For her epigraph Cather uses a quote from Virgil: Optima dies... prima fugit: "The best days are the first to pass." How is this idea borne out within My Antonia? In what ways can the novel's early days, with their scenes of poverty, hunger and loss, be described as the best? What does Jim, the novel's presiding consciousness, lose in the process of growing up? Does Antonia lose it as well? How is this notion of lost happiness connected to Jim's observation: "That is happiness: to be dissolved into something complete and great"?

11. Although My Antonia is elegiac in its tone--and has been used in high school curricula to convey a conservative view of the American past--it is also notable for its striking realism about gender and culture. Not only does the novel have a female protagonist who prevails in spite of male betrayal and abuse (and two secondary female characters who prosper without ever marrying), it also portrays the early frontier as a multicultural quilt in which Bohemians, Swedes, Austrians, and a blind African-American retain their ethnic identities without dissolving in the American melting pot. Significantly, at the novel's end Antonia has reverted to speaking Bohemian with her husband and children. How important are these themes to the novel's overall vision? Do they accurately reflect the history of the western frontier?

Comparing My Antonia and The Professor's House:

1. How does the small university town in The Professor's House resemble or differ from My Antonia's Black Hawk? To what extent are those differences due to the different historical eras in which the two novels are set? Read together, what kind of relationship do these novels posit between towns and the prairie? Which region does Cather seem to identify with the "best times" of My Antonia's Virgilian epigraph?

2. How do the female characters in The Professor's House compare with those in My Antonia? How do both sets of women confirm or challenge stereotypes about their gender? What significance do you see in the fact that Antonia marries relatively late, and her friends Lena and Tina not at all, while the St. Peter women have married early? What role does class play in Cather's treatment of her female characters?

3. Why is suicide a theme in both novels? What do Cather's suicides appear to have in common? Does she seem to associate the act with moral failure or mental breakdown or portray it as a natural, and even honorable, response to intolerable circumstances? What role did suicide play in the age and society in which Cather wrote? (You may want to look at such novels as Sister Carrie to see how some of her contemporaries treated the same theme.)

4. Given the evidence of these novels, how does Cather seem to view relations between the sexes? What prospects of happiness and fulfillment do they hold for both men and women? Which of her characters ends up happily married and for what reasons? Why do so many others--from Jim Burden to Godfrey St. Peter--end up regretting their attachments?

5. The Professor's House has as its epigraph, "A turquoise set in silver, wasn't it?... Yes, a turquoise set in dull silver." Although these words of Louie's describe a ring that Tom once gave Rosamund and thus allude to the abandoned cliff-dwelling where Tom presumably unearthed it, they may also refer to the structure that Cather uses in this novel. Discuss the way in which the author embeds Tom Outland's narrative within the professor's story. What similarity do you see between this strategy and the embedded narratives in My Antonia?

6. In both My Antonia and The Professor's House Cather uses two sorts of language, one conventional and expository, the other heightened and rhapsodically sensual, a language attuned to colors, fragrances, and grand effects of light and shadow. Where does she employ these different kinds of prose, and to what effect?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 35 )
Rating Distribution

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(13)

4 Star

(10)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 35 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2014

    Great novel, even better as a 99-cent Nook book

    You can read lots of reviews of this book. It is a beautiful novel about American life on the prairie in the late 1800's. The main characters are an American orphan boy living with his grandparents and am immigrant girl. The story follows them from aged 10 or so thru middle age.

    I'll make 1 comment about the 99-cent Nook book. It isn't indexed like a regular nook book, no hot-linked table-of-contents/chapters. No integrated dictionary. I didn't know that when I bought it. I would have bought it anyway. Barnes and Noble, keep the 99-cent books coming!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2014

    Good history read

    Enjoyed this book as reading history of long ago reveals how life changes but really don't every hundred years. Love the people in this story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 2, 2014

    Adventurous, exciting, & compelling!!!!!!

    My Antonia is very exquisite for those who enjoy history, adventures, and suspense. For young aged kids for example middle schoolers through high school is recommended. You won't be disappointed in the piece of literature! :)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2014

    Bleh

    I am 11 and have a reading level of a softmore in college. This book put me right to sleep. Unless you are looking for a bedtime story for a fussy toddler, stop here!!!!!!

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2013

    My antonia

    When i was given this assignment for school, i was somwhat apprehensive because their is a beige blob on the cove, and dont get me wrong, i love beige, i just dont like reading about beige for 300 pages. But i figured, these people are professional educators, they must know what they are doing. About 20 pages into this book, i realized: no they are not professional educators, they are inflictory of child mental torture. This book has no story line, and the whole book is about( as probibly ptesumed by the cover) a girl named antonia. In a corn field. In Nabraska. Sounds interesting riight. I am literally warning you for your life.... DO NOT READ THIS BOOK UNLESS YOU ARE IN PRISON AND HAVE NOTHING BETTER TO DO OR KNOW FOR SURE THAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO DIE. Literally by the time i finished this book, blood was pooring out of my eyes. Remenber this, you have been warned. And if your teacher ever mentiong that you might read this book, run out of the classroom dcreaming before it is too late!!!!!!!!!!!!

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2013

    Beautiful characters, relationship, and history

    I vowed to read a few classics, and My Antonia crossed my path first. This book captures life for immigrant families on the prairies. The author excels in providing descriptive detail of the stunning scenery and complex true characters.

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  • Posted June 23, 2013

    A friend gave me this book and I read it. I thanked my friend m

    A friend gave me this book and I read it. I thanked my friend many times for gifting me with such a GREAT book, and Cather's other books are just as good.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2013

    Wondeful story

    Good read ... in it's simplicty it tells a great story of growing up.

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  • Posted February 10, 2012

    An American classic by a marvelous writer!

    When Willa Cather writes about the immigrants who came to America and settled on the plains of Nebraska, the reader gains an understanding of the history, the hardships and the endurance of these courageous men and women. My Antonia is a classic that endures because of its characters, the excellent writing, and the lessons we can learn of the history of this great country. I waited decades before I picked up this book and I am sorry I waited so long!

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  • Posted April 22, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    a pleasant read

    This was a pleasant read, nice to put yourselves in the farm life of the past in the midwest. Didn't love it, but for the price, it was worth it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2002

    City Gurl Loves This Country Love Story

    I live in NYC and realting my personal experineces to this book was hard. But the one thing that I felt and that the rest of the world can feel is the beauty of the love story. Even though I have never been out side of NYC this book takes my mind body and soul far west. A book you won't be able to put down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2000

    A splendid novel

    One summer, one of summer reading books was My Antonia. I waited until the last minute to do it. I had to order it on cassette in order to finish it. I got it and finished it in about a week. It helped me finish it a lot faster, although I didn't like the way I couldn't play it on my normal cassette player. I had to go out and buy a cassette player with ''balance control.'' I also didn't like the way it had a ''B'' side and I got lost several times and it took me a while to find my place. In the end, I was glad I bought it, enjoyed the book, and it helped me immensely. And one more thing. Why do books on cassette cost so much!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2000

    A Simple Story

    This book was a very quick and easy read but it was enjoyable. It doesn't have a lot of action but it eloquently depicts the way life and love really are. The ending surprised me but I think I liked the book all the more for it. This is a very simple story without a lot of fireworks but it will make you think about all of the truths captured in the tale.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2000

    My Antonia as a Classroom Reading

    For a class of high school juniors this book was not rated with an outstanding recomendation. The teens had a hard time keeping interest and reading on was more of a 'required assignment' then a 'I can't wait to see what happens next'. The teens that read this book in my class enjoyed the story line but had a hard time reading because there was nothing that they could relate to. This book would be excilent for adults who can appreciate the work that Willa Cather has done. I have heard nothing but good remarks from the adult world. However I would advise teachers to pick something that would be of more interest to high school aged people.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2000

    uhhhh

    I found the entire story droll and uninteresting. It never was able to capture my interest. I storngly recommend people to stay away from this book at all cost.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 1999

    A Strikingly Simple Story

    I loved this book. It wasn't a formulated, by the rules type of romance. It was just beautiful. If you're the type of person who likes lots of adventure and torid romance, it's not for you. However, you enjoy reading about true love and spirit, it's a must read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 1999

    Classic Frontier Story

    The characters in the novel are described in great detail; their personalities were fashioned such a way that the reader receives a true sense of each character. The book was published at a time when women characters were expected to find happiness only in love or marriage. 'My Antonia' gives us a forceful heroine who is independent and strong of mind and body. The use of plot, characters, setting, and perspective open readers eyes to a period in time that most people today can¿t imagine. The novel invites readers to feel the pain, hardships, joy, and satisfaction of the frontier characters. In 'My Antonia,' Cather successfully develops believable characters and an intriguing story of prairie life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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