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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1230

The following paper topics are designed to test your understanding of the novel as a whole and to analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each topic is a sample outline to get you started.

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Topic #1
When Mr. Shimerda dies, Antonia is left, through no choice of her own, without a father. She and her family are left poor and grieving in a strange new land. However, the rest of Antonia’s life after his suicide becomes shaped by the choices that she makes. Explain how these choices cause change at various points of her life.

Outline
I. Thesis Statement: After her father’s death, all of the changes that occur in Antonia’s life come from her own choices.

II. Chooses to work like a man in the fields
A. Develops knowledge of farming
B. Foregoes her education with Jim
C. Appreciates life on the land

III. Chooses to work for Harlings
A. Becomes part of a warm and friendly family
B. Learns to cook and sew
C. Learns the mannerisms of town life
D. Makes wages for spending

IV. Chooses to work for the Cutters
A. Leaves happy family life of the Harlings
B. Makes more money and does less work
C. Becomes irresponsible with her free time
D. Becomes victim to Wick Cutter’s advances

V. Chooses to marry Larry Donovan
A. Doesn’t listen to others’ opinions of him
B. Leaves Black Hawk for Colorado
C. Larry deserts her after a month
D. Comes home and lives quietly on farm
E. Bears her child alone

VI. Chooses to marry Anton Cuzak
A. Meets and marries a fellow Bohemian
B. Has many children
C. Teaches them customs and language of the old country
D. Lives a content and happy life on the prairie

VII. Conclusion: Despite some poor decisions, Antonia ends up happy and content with her life.

Topic #2
Many immigrants arrived on the Nebraska prairie from all over Europe. Most of them were very poor and they had little hope for survival. It can be said that the true meaning of their pioneer spirit rose from their perseverance, their sheer will to survive the harshest conditions. They braved the ordeals of prairie life for many years until they found comfort and established themselves in a new land. Discuss the many hardships these immigrants faced and how overcoming those hardships defined their pioneer spirit.

Outline
I. Thesis Statement: Immigrants on the prairie encountered many hardships which they overcame through courage and hard work.

II. Fighting the language barrier
A. Cannot ask for help when they need it
B. Shimerdas at the mercy of Krajiek
C. Were forced to make friends with neighbors

III. Surviving the harshness of the prairie
A. Mr. Shimerda has no knowledge of farming
B. Poor living conditions
C. Severe winters and snowstorms

IV. Dealing with psychological problems
A. Mr. Shimerda’s depression and suicide
B. Mrs. Shimerda’s bitterness
C. Ambrosch’s unfriendly demeanor
D. Tragic story the wolves haunts Russian Peter

V. Prejudice from Americans
A. Customs and food hard to tolerate
B. Townspeople look down on them

VI. Conclusion: Despite all of their hardships, the immigrants that survived the harsh life of the prairie became true heroes and they will always be remembered.

Topic #3
Most of the characters in My Antonia are women. Willa Cather has chosen to represent many of these characters as successful and independent women, much like herself. Describe how the main female characters in this novel achieve and maintain their independence.

Outline
I.Thesis Statement: Many of the females in My Antonia achieve a success and independence that had once been reserved for men.

II. Antonia
A. Works farm like a man
B. Makes wages and spends money
C. Moves west
D. Becomes head of household on Cuzak farm

III. Frances Harling
A. Helps father in his business
B. Helps townspeople avoid Wick Cutter
C. Makes money and buys gifts

IV. Lena Lingard
A. Becomes dressmaker
B. Moves to Lincoln and opens shop
C. Won’t marry and be subservient to a man
D. Lives a single, carefree life

V. Tiny Soderball
A. Works as a single woman at a hotel
B. Starts a lodging house in Seattle
C. Helps found Dawson City during gold rush
D. Moves to San Francisco a wealthy and independent woman

VI. Conclusion: Willa Cather is implying her own success as an independent woman by making many of her fictional female characters independent and successful.

Topic #4
Cather uses the seasons in this novel to symbolize life itself, using them to great effect in painting scenes. Each of these scenes show how the endless cycle of spring-summer-fall-winter reflects and symbolizes the character’s up-and-down struggles through life on the prairie. Describe the use of each season in the novel and what it symbolizes, using examples to support each symbol.

Outline
I. Thesis Statement: Willa Cather uses the seasons to symbolize the recycling process of human emotions.

II. Autumn means change and fulfillment
A. Novel begins in autumn
B. Harvest of crops brings contentment
C. Sight of plough against sun means fulfillment
D. Novel ends in autumn

III. Winter brings death and isolation
A. Paralyzing snowstorms cause isolation from town
B. Loneliness and then death of Mr. Shimerda
C. Antonia delivers her baby alone

IV. Spring brings rebirth and hope
A. Neighbors help build new Shimerda house
B. Antonia moves away to get married
C. Jim forges hopeful friendship with Lena

V. Summer is joy and life
A. Dance tent comes to Black Hawk
B. Jim begins new life at college
C. Antonia lives happy life with Harlings

VI. Conclusion: By using the description of each season as a backdrop, we are able to connect each season to the highs and lows of the pioneer life.

Topic #5
Critics have noted that Willa Cather has set up a contrast in this novel: the European immigrants come across as idealistic and generous and full of personality, while the native settlers of Nebraska are dull and disliked. The immigrants who don’t possess these admirable qualities never find success and happiness in the novel. Find examples of these differences in the characters of the novel.

Outline
I. Thesis Statement: Willa Cather wants to emphasize the importance of character in surviving the ordeals of immigrant life on the prairie.

II. Antonia is full of good qualities
A. Praises Jim for killing snake
B. Works hard in fields and at Harlings
C. Learns English quickly from Jim
D. Survives her fathers suicide and Larry Donovan’s leaving her

III. Other hired girls have good qualities
A. Lena wants to build a house for mother
B. Lena runs her business with intelligence
C. Lena has compassion for others and she cries in the theater
D. Tiny is generous and independent

IV. Townspeople seem listless and unlikable
A. Wick Cutter is devious and ugly
B. Mrs. Cutter is loud and ugly
C. Salesmen at the hotel are unlikable
D. Townspeople at dances are dull and snobbish

V. Immigrants without admirable qualities don’t become successful
A. Russian Peter recounts his horrible deed and dies
B. Mr. Shimerda is feeble and weak-minded and dies
C. Mrs. Shimerda is miserable and lives unhappy life
D. Ambrosch is unfriendly and unlikable

VI. Conclusion: Through the fate or fortune of characters in the novel, Willa Cather depicts the importance of virtues by failure or success.

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