What is the role of the landscape in Willa Cather's My Antonia?

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The prairie is as much a character in Cather’s book as Jim or Antonia herself. Like Antonia, for example, the land around Black Hawk also grows and develops over the course of the book, starting out as virgin prairie and gradually transforming in to settled farms. The landscape defines how people exist in the book; the hardships the Shimerdas face in the beginning are in relation to their difficulty in farming the land, and Mr. Shimerda’s suicide is brought on by homesickness. But it is also the beauty of the land that comes to mirror Antonia’s life; there is an odd connection between her and the land that captivates Jim but also eludes his understanding. In this way the land can be thought of as a kind of emblem of Antonia, but it would be wrong to reduce its meaning to any simple symbolic formula, because the land always stands apart and separate from the characters or action of the story. There are many examples of this. Take, for instance, the passage where Mr. Shimerda...

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