Discuss how Cather's use of setting moves the novel through its paces and brings the reader's attention to both the beauty and the devastation that make up a farmer's life on the Midwest prairie. Discuss the different characters in My Antonia, and now they work both with and against each other to bring the narratives intrigue full circle by its end.
In answer to the second post, which is outdated, but may be helpful to someone else in the future, I see that the main conflict in the story of My Antonia, is man against nature.
There are certainly a wealth of conflicts present, but as Cather begins with her majestic descriptions of the Nebraska wilderness, one cannot help but be struck by the difficulty and beauty that are presented hand-in-hand as we begin the novel.
As Cather never sways from filling our senses with the sights and sounds of the midwest wilderness, I cannot help but believe that nature is at the center of the conflict in the story. However, I believe the conflict is two-fold.
It would be easy to assume that the harsh and deadly winters would first come to mind in considering man vs. nature.
However, when we reach the story's end, it is not nature's battle with man that has commanded the pages, but man's battle to embrace the land and commit one's existence to it forever, or leave it behind believing that satisfaction comes from a job, a college education, or maybe a nice home in town.
It is not to say these things are not valuable achievements, but I don't believe Cather sees them with the same magic that comes from the land.
Remembering Jim's disappointment over Antonia's daughter, born out of wedlock, we see that he has connected more closely to urban life. Ironically, doing what was expected of him, what his family hoped for him, has not brought him a sense of satisfaction. He is disconnected from town, old friends, and does not even have a family.
Antonia, on the other hand, who did not follow the path prescribed for a "decent" young woman (though she never really stopped being decent, despite "society's" perceptions), found not just the beauty and satisfaction of life on a farm with a husband and large family, but she has become a part of the land itself. It has not been easy, but she realizes should cover never live anywhere else. Her husband's joy in their homestead is equally obvious. Antonia breathes the air, embraces their crops, nurtures her orchard as if each tree were a living person. For Antonia, it is not about a place to live or paying the bills, but finding pure satisfaction from the land on which she lives, and this passion fills her soul.
Jim is happy for Antonia at the end, realizing how awe-inspiring she is; but he feels he has missed something—and he has.
[she] had always been one to leave images in the mind that did not fade.... She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true.... She was a battered woman now, not a lovely girl; but she still had that something which fires the imagination.... All the strong things of her heart came out in her body.... She was a rich mine of life...
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With posting number one, there are two questions regarding essays.
Item #2 has been answered.
In terms of item #1, Cather uses (masterfully) her descriptions of setting to move the plot along. The settings run between the warmer seasons, and colder ones. And they also bounce between town and farm.
Where the townspeople believe they have the more civilized life, and are in many ways superior to the foreign settlers (new farmers), the newcomers to the land discover Nebraska's secrets that the townspeople overlook. They see things superficially, but the farmers sense of life that fills them, coming straight from the land.
The unsettled Nebraska plain is harsh and unforgiving, especially in the winter. Antonia's father, for instance, finds it too desolate and unlike home to survive, taking his life in the throes of abject depression. The winter "separates the men from the boys." Perhaps survival of the unforgiving winters make the sense of accomplishment and celebration even stronger in those who work the farms.
For that same harsh landscape of winter, rewards those who remain and continue to "battle" with beautiful awe-inspiring and life-affirming vistas when the spring and summer arrive. Jim and Antonia work hard during these months, but they learn to love life and the land, to discover new things that the wilderness has to offer and are better for it.
In fact, where Jim never seems to completely connect with the land in the deepest recesses of his heart, Antonia does. By the end of the novel, she and her husband have a large and happy family, and Antonia's life springs from the land and embraces her: it fills her soul.
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