My Antonia Questions and Answers
by Willa Cather

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In My Antonia, how does the use of setting move the novel through its paces and bring the reader's attention to the beauty and devastation of a farmer's life?

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This powerful novel is rightfully famous for its excellent evocation of place. The sense of beauty and potential in the descriptions of the countryside capture the real sense of excitement and hope that so many immigrants felt as they first arrived to this rather stark landscape. Note the following description of the countryside in Chapter 4 at the very beginning of the book, where Jim begins to be captured by the amazing beauty of his landscape:

All the years that have passed have not dimmed my memory of that first glorious autumn. The new country lay open before me: there were no fences in those days, and I could choose my own way over the grass uplands, trusting the pony to get me home again. Sometimes I followed the sunflower-bordered roads.

As beautiful as this landscape is, as reminiscent of the hope and optimism of the American Dream, the novel also shows that it can be a cruel, harsh and unyielding setting as well. The landscape is somewhere that, even though it is beautiful, is not able to replace the powerful sense of the loss of one's homeland that is experienced by so many immigrants, Antonia included, and it is also shown to physically break various people who have optimistically come to start a new life, like Antonia's father. The farmers are at the whim of nature and many suffer as a result.

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