Willa Cather – My Àntonia

Willa Cather
In the next couple of weeks we will focus on Willa Cather’s My Ántonia and the historical context during which it was produced, which we find in chapter 14 “Industrialization and American Realism (1865-1900)” in the course book, Text and Events.

My Ántonia (1918)
My Ántonia is the third and final novel in Willa Cather’s prairie trilogy. The novel consists of five books that roughly follow Ántonia’s life, except the third book which focuses more on Jim’s relationship with Lena.

Further Reading

Collins, Rachel. “‘Where All the Ground Is Friendly’: Subterranean Living and the Ethic of Cultivation in Willa Cather’s My Ántonia.” Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 19.1 (2012): 43-61. Available through UB.

Goggans, Jan. “Social (Re)Visioning in the Fields of My Ántonia.” Cather Studies 5 (2003): 153-172. Available through UB.

Hoffmann, Karen A. “Identity Crossings and the Autobiographical Act in Willa Cather’s My Ántonia.” Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory 58.4 (2002): 25-50. Available through UB.

For this assignment you will develop two keywords and write one additional paragraph.

a) Develop two keywords


Keywords are words or short phrases, taken from the text, that you think are significant in conjunction with an important theme, idea, etc. in the text. It is worth repeating that keywords are words or phrases found in the text. If you feel that jealousy is a major theme, for example, but the word ‘jealousy’ does not appear in the text, you must find a word or phrase associated with the idea of jealousy as a theme. Keywords should be specific rather than general – the idea here is to look very closely at the details of the text and see how small things emphasise certain themes or ideas.

Your subsequent discussion of the keywords you chose then allows you to show how specific details in the language of the text show how the text produces meaning.

In essence, the keyword task (keyword + discussion) allows you to present an exploratory, initial close-reading of some aspect of the text. Ideally, the close reading should be developed to make connections to the historical context.

Each keyword consists of the 1) the keyword itself and then 2) a short discussion (i.e. 4-6 sentences) where you explain the significance of the keyword.

The goal of this assignment is for you to develop your own thoughts about the text, and to show the teacher your ability to identify and logically present an interpretation of aspects of the text. This means that a primary aspect of this assignment is to interpret details within the text.

It is important to remember that it is not a question of trying to find the universally accepted keyword for each text (like the kind of keyword you would find in an index or when searching online). Look instead for a word or phrase that connects to the theme in a specific way in one part of the text. The theme may be found throughout, but how it is dealt with in a specific context is what you want to try to identify here. Literary studies is founded on the idea that a text can enable several different logical, credible interpretations.

Although keywords illustrate your individual interpretation of a text, you will this time be asked to focus on two of the following themes. They are all salient in the novel, and the task is to find details/phrases (suitable for a keyword discussion) that connect to two of them.

Nostalgia (or else how present and past are intermingled)

Immigration and identity/belonging

Gender (roles, expectations, identity)

Significance of the land/places

Significance of seasons of the year


Remember that for each keyword you provide both the keyword (a phrase or word from the novel) and a short paragraph discussion about the keyword.

b) In addition: write one paragraph in which you either connect an aspect of the novel to the historical context, outlined in Texts and Events, or consider an idea from the novel in relation to an idea or argument from one of the secondary sources listed above.

This means your complete assignment will look like this:
a1) keyword and accompanying paragraph
a2) keyword and accompanying paragraph
b) paragraph linking ideas to historical context or secondary source idea

Upload your two keywords and paragraph (as one document) in the designated drop box. There is no exact word limit requirement for this task, but if it helps: I recommend you aim for an assignment of  400-700 words.

Feedback Note
This assignment is graded R (Revise)-VG.

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