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So you’re going to teach Willa Cather's My Ántonia. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, this classic text has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. Teaching this richly profound novel to your class will be a worthwhile and rewarding enterprise for both you and your students. It will give them unique insight into valuable rhetorical, literary concepts such as personification and point-of-view; along with powerfully resonant themes such as perseverance, memory, and the wonder of the human struggle for survival. This guide highlights the text’s most salient aspects to keep in mind before you begin teaching. 

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Facts at a Glance 

  • Publication Date: 1918
  • Recommended Grade Level: 9 and up
  • Approximate Word Count: 81,800 
  • Author: Willa Cather 
  • Country of Origin: United States of America 
  • Genre: Historical Fiction 
  • Literary Period: Modernism 
  • Conflict: Person vs. Nature, Person vs. Society 
  • Narration: First-Person 
  • Setting: Nebraska, 1880s 
  • Structure: Prose Novel 
  • Tone: Nostalgic, Wistful

Texts that Go Well with My Ántonia

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. Set in China, this 1931 American novel chronicles a poor farmer’s rise to prosperity through unfailing dedication to the land. Like My Ántonia, it provides a more nuanced commentary on the rags-to-riches narrative. 

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. This classic American novel is another acclaimed representation of the struggle for survival in the United States. As the epic story details an Oklahoma family’s move to California during the Dust Bowl period of the 1930s, it is historically a fitting follow-up to My Ántonia. For a shorter read, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men also works. 

Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, ed. Him Lai and Genny Lim. San Francisco Bay’s Angel Island was an immigration station for approximately one million migrants in the early 20th century. These migrants were mostly from Asia, and in the wake of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Angel Island was more a prison than a passing point. This poetry collection is a compilation of the poems that Chinese detainees carved into the walls of their barracks. With My Ántonia, students can engage with American immigrant history through literature from a transcultural perspective. 

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis. This 1920 American satirical novel complements My Ántonia in its exploration of the role of the American prairie in identity formation and for its more critical take on the American Dream. The novel is also valuable for its insight into American society as it entered the “Roaring Twenties.” 

O, Pioneers! by Willa Cather. Preceding My Ántonia, O, Pioneers! is the first of Cather’s “Great Plains trilogy,” of which My Ántonia is the final installment. The novel is a powerful representation of pioneer resilience and a moving testament to nature’s ephemerality. 

Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov. The autobiographical memoir of the famous Russian-American novelist, this text pairs well with My Ántonia for its pushing and blurring of the boundaries between fiction and reality, art and memory.

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Key Plot Points