Book I: The Shimerdas
Introduction and Chapters 1-10
1. Why do all these immigrants risk their lives to leave their homelands and attempt to start over on a harsh prairie with little or no money?
2. Compare and contrast the lives of Jim Burden and Antonia. Explain what drew them together and enabled them to become close friends.
1. Explain the significance of the seasons that come full circle from autumn to autumn in Book I.
2. Compare and contrast the relationship between Antonia and Jim in Section 1 (Chapters 1-10) and Section 2 (Chapters 11-19).
Book II: The Hired Girls
1. Discuss the contrasts that are being developed between the characters in this section.
2. Discuss the importance of independent women in this section, and why Willa Cather has chosen to develop these characters here.
1. Discuss the differences Jim sees between the country girls and the town girls.
2. Explain the importance of the dance pavilion to both Jim and Antonia.
Book III: Lena Lingard
1. Explain why Willa Cather has chosen to devote one of the books of her novel to Lena Lingard.
2. Discuss the importance of the narrator leaving Black Hawk for college life.
Book IV: The Pioneer Woman’s Story
1. Compare and contrast Tiny Soderballs’ and Lena Lingard’s success with money.
2. Discuss the reasons why Willa Cather chose to have Antonia return to the Shimerda farm as an unwed mother.
Book V: Cuzak’s Boys
1. Explain Antonia’s choice of names for each of her children and how each of these names ties in to characters from her past.
2. Discuss the differences between the Cuzak household and the Shimerda household from many years before.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
(The entire section is 1230 words.)