CONFUSING “RACKED” WITH “WRACKED.”
If you are racked with nerves, you are feeling as if
you are being stretched on the torture device, the rack.
You rack your brain when you try to write difficult
Wrack, on the other hand, has to do with ruinous
accidents. With luck, this won’t apply to your writing, but
it might just apply to the stock market, which has been
wracked by recession.
HISTORICAL CONTEXT: IMMIGRATION
Up until 1825, fewer than 10,000 new immigrants came to the United
States each year. By the late 1840s, revolutions in Europe and the
devastating potato famine in Ireland sent people to this country by the
hundreds of thousands. By 1860, one-eighth of America's 32
million people were foreign born.
While many of these immigrants settled in the east, the promotional activities of
the railroads brought many immigrants straight to the prairies. The
railroad companies even sent scouts abroad to encourage people to come and
settle the plains and prairies.
Another flood of immigrants came in the 1860s and 1870s, just after the
Homestead Act of 1862. This legislation granted, for a small fee, 160
acres of Western public land to citizens or prospective
citizens who would stay and settle it for five years. These
settlers were predominantly from western and northern Europe.
By the time Cather was writing My Ántonia, immigration to the Great
Plains had slowed. Urban immigration, however, continued to cause
miserable situations in the cities.
As a journalist in Pittsburgh and New York City and as a
newspaperwoman and editor for a radical magazine, Cather was
exposed to the conditions in which many urban immigrants lived.
She also saw the mounting fear that the arrival of cheap foreign
labor was not only undesirable competition but a contribution to
the widening and hardening gap between rich and poor.
During World War I, German-Americans were definitely
suspect and stories of their victimization can be found in almost any
Midwestern state histories. Even the Czechs, who were eager to help
free their homeland from the domination of Austria-Hungary, suffered
during the war years. The country's anxiety over the role immigrants
were to play in our society did not ease, even though the "tide" of
immigration was stemmed briefly by World War I.
THEORIES OF AMERICANIZATION
Reaction to the massive European immigration of the nineteenth century had
fostered opposing theories of Americanization: These models have come to be
called the "melting pot" theory and the "salad bowl" theory and
still define the debate on difference even today, almost a century later.
In the 1890s, Frederick Jackson Turner popularized the image of
the American West as a crucible (a vat or vessel) where European
immigrants would be "Americanized, liberated, and fused into a mixed race."
My Ántonia can be read as a tribute to this view and Ántonia
herself can be appreciated as "the rich mine of life, like the founders of early
races" that produces the American people from the raw material that has been
gathered on its shores.
Carl Degler coined the expression "salad bowl."
Spend 5-6 minutes in
your groups, discussing
your answers to
prompts or your QHQs
1. Discuss why Willa Cather chose a male
narrator and why women dominate the novel.
2. Explore the story or relationship of Pavel and
3. Compare and contrast the lives of Jim Burden
and Antonia. Explain what drew them together
and enabled them to become close friends.
4. Compare and contrast the relationship
between Antonia and Jim in Section 1
(Chapters 1-10) and Section 2 (Chapters 11-19)
QHQ: CHAPTERS 1-19
1. Q: What do the symbols of the snake and badger
a. What other symbols show the struggle in between
queer and straight?
2. Q: Is Jim supposed to be Cather?
a. Q: So can Cather be both Jim and Antonia?
3. Q: Should Willa Cather’s refusal to conform to a
traditional gender role influence our reading of My
4. Q: Does Jim Burden play a feminine identity in the
MELTING POT OR SALAD BOWL?
1. Q: How do the Burdens and Fuchs, and the
Shimerdas behave and react towards one
another’s cultural and ethnic backgrounds?
2. Q: Is this a story that defies all the traditional
form and promotes interracial friendships?
3. Q: Why did the Shimerdas become more hostile
and started to feel more superior towards the
4. Q: Was the death of Mr. Shimerda a symbol for
PETER AND PAVEL
Q: “We did not tell Pavel’s secret to any one, but
guarded it jealously–as if the wolves of the
Ukraine had gathered that night long ago, and
the wedding party been sacrificed, to give us a
painful and peculiar pleasure.” What is the
“painful and peculiar pleasure” Jim Burden and
3. Discuss My Antonia in
terms of one or more of
4. Write your own QHQ.
Read My Antonia (1918) Book II Chapters 1-8
Post #13: Answer one of the following prompts:
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
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