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3 comments - Last on 11/06/2008

November -- My Antonia

December 03, 2008 By Anne Tyler

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Discussion Question 1: In calling their baby Susan, the Yazdans “chose a name that resembled the name she had come with, Sooki, and also it was a comfortable sound for Iranians to pronounce” [p. 10].

The Donaldsons keep their baby’s Korean name, Jin-Ho. What is the significance of these choices? Is it important for an adoptive family to give children from another country or ethnic group a sense of their heritage? What insights does Ziba and Bitsy’s fractious disagreement about “Americanization” [p. 46] offer into this question?

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By using Jim as the narrator we only see Antonia through his eyes. I do wonder how different the story would have been if Antonia had been the narrator. I wonder why Cather chose to write the book this way?

By having Jim tell Antonia's story the reader keeps a distance from her as well as having an idealized view of her.  I think Willa Cather chose to tell the story this way because Jim Burden is the character in the book that represents Willa Cather in the real world.  It seems that Cather may have been infatuated with Antonia (Anna Sadilek) which is why she paints such a glowing portrait of her.  If the story had been told from Antonia's point of view, the reader would have a more realistic picture of her, both the good and the bad.

Discussion Question 2: Stories are usually told to communicate a particular meaning or idea about human existence. What are some of the themes of “My Antonia”?

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My Antonia themes
The novel can be viewed as a coming of age work, which is why it can still be enjoyed by younger readers today even though their lives are so outwardly different. As Cather's characters grow into adults, they must deal with difficulties and joys that help them evolve. While their behavior reflects an older value system, the various ways they deal with problems and react to their surroundings seem universal.

Discussion Question 3: According to Jim Burden (see below), the town people viewed the hired girls and their families as ignorant. How does that view compare to our society's view of immigrants today?

"I thought the attitude of the town people toward these girls very stupid.  If I told my schoolmates that Lena Lingard's grandfather was a clergyman, and much respected in Norway, they looked at me blankly.  What did it matter?  All foreigners were ignorant people who couldn't speak English.  There was not a man in Black Hawk who had the intelligence or cultivation, much less the personal distinction, of Antonia's father. Yet people saw no difference between her and the three Marys; they were all Bohemians, all hired girls"  (p. 110).

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Discussion Question 4: When Jim sees Antonia for the first time after so many years, he describes her as "battered but not diminished" (p. 175). What does he mean? How does her appearance reflect her character and her life?

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