National Endowment for the Arts - The Big Read
My Ántonia

My Ántonia

by Willa Cather

An artist should have no moral purpose in mind other than just his art.


Willa Cather as managing editor of McClure's, 1908 (University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Archives & Special Collections)

  1. Why might Willa Cather begin her novel with an introduction from an unnamed female acquaintance of Jim Burden? What effect does this device have on the reader?
  2. Why does Jim title his manuscript "My Ántonia"? What does he mean when he states, "It's through myself that I knew and felt her"?
  3. This book is often seen as a coming-of-age novel. How does Ántonia challenge Jim's growing masculinity?
  4. When does Ántonia's father call her "My Ántonia"? How deeply does his death change her life? Why does it affect Jim so much?
  5. Do you feel the stories narrated by others-such as the story of the young bride and the wolves-are essential to the novel? Why or why not?
  6. How is the land a character in this novel? Is it the hero?
  7. What qualities do Ántonia and Lena share? How do they differ? Why does Jim pursue a romance with Lena and not Ántonia?
  8. Jim's family is low-church Protestant; the Shimerda family is Roman Catholic. What role does religion play in the novel?
  9. Is Ántonia triumphant at the end? Is Jim?
  10. Why do you suppose the image of the plough in the setting sun has become one of Cather's most memorable symbols?
  11. Cather once said that "one's strongest emotions and one's most vivid mental pictures are acquired before one is fifteen." How is this true for Jim Burden and his view of Ántonia?
  12. The novel's epigraph, "Optima dies ... prima fugit," is cited by Jim later in the novel: "the best days are the first to flee." How is this a fitting summation of the novel's theme?

"The further the world advances the more it becomes evident that an author's only safe course is to cling to the skirts of his art, forsaking all others, and keep unto her as long as they two shall live."
-Willa Cather, 1894

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