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Where theentrance to the My Antoniawing of the Willa CatherFoundation should be, apassenger car from the era ofsteam locomotives stretchesalong the opening, blockingthe entire entrance. A doorfixed into the side providesentry to a three foot deepreplica train interior,containing two plaques, andanother door which leads tothe wing. The purpose of this“lobby” is to give visitors asense of the frame style put touse in My Antonia, executedby giving the exhibit the sameintroduction as is given in thestory; that is, a passenger carwhich relates minutely to thestory beyond the car, but setsthe scene for what lies ahead.
This wing of the Willa Cather Foundation is dedicated to her novel “MyAntonia,” a story that portrays the author’s deep connection to herhometown of Red Cloud, Nebraska. Many literary experts suggest that thebook’s main character, Jim, is directly modeled after Willa and her life onthe Nebraska prairie (Britton, 2008). Similar to Jim, she was born inVirginia, and moved to her grandparents home on the Nebraska plains(albeit, she was not orphaned as Jim was, her parents made the movewith her) at a young age, alongside a dense immigrant population (MFAHBook Club, 2010). Her writing gains a vividness achieved by her time onthe plains, for every scene she describes feels real to the point that itwould be impossible to paint such a picture without having experiencedthe scene herself. As you enter beyond the adjacent door, please walk clockwise aroundthe room. The exhibits are situated in an attempt to give our visitors ataste of the prevalent theme of change present in My Antonia, exemptingthe center wall which hosts a number of interactive devices with nosignificant arrangement. Make notice of the log cabin décor whichrepresent our attempts to reproduce the home of young Jim Burden.Please enjoy yourself!
To give a bit of clarification on why you’re currently standing in a train car, theintroduction to My Antonia is very informative. The introduction sets the reader in apassenger car rolling through Iowa, with two companions swapping stories of life in theMidwest. Their conversations winds up on the subject of a girl both parties knew longago, which sets the stage for the body of the novel to begin. In an attempt to replicate this “frame” effect, the Willa Cather foundation hasprovided a period train car installation for our wing. Utilized as an entrance, it gives thesame introduction to our version of My Antonia as is given in the actual novel. Used as aliterary device, framing is an easy way to hint at background information, divulge spoilersto the plot which bias your opinion of the story, and provide the reader with theknowledge that the novel may be romanticized by the “author,” meaning the transpiringevents could be different than they are described in the story. Hopefully the entrance to our room does the same. Enjoy your stay.
Jim• Upon entering the room, walk to the left wall. Here, Jim’s life is displayed through four two foot wide posters accompanied by plaques which chronologically describe Jim’s life. Diction is an important factor in defining My Antonia, so accompanying each poster is a button, which when pushed plays a recording of a passage from each period of Jim’s life. Change was a major theme in the novel, especially in the context of each character, so it is very important to see the posters in order so as to experience the change in Jim through passing years! Follow the arrow to the start of Jim’s life.
Jim Burden was a ten year old boy who,following the death of his parents, moved from Virginiato Nebraska under the care of his late father’s farmhand,Jake Marpole, to live with his grandparents. Hebefriended a Bohemian girl by the name of Antonia whowas four years his senior. She arrived with her family inBlack Hawk (the town nearest to the Burden’s farm) thesame day Jim did. Throughout the summer and fall,Jim shared a number of exciting adventures with Antoniaand her baby sister Yulka in which Jim and Antoniaformed a tight bond. Alongside his grandparents, Otto Fuchs, a roughAustrian farmhand under the employ of GrandpaBurden, and Jake play role-models to Jim. Otto’s storiesof the Wild West captivate both Jim and Jake. Two Russian men, Peter and Pavel, also leave Jimwith a deep impression, despite their ability to speakEnglish. They were friendly men, and could communicatewell with the Shimerdas. However, Pavel was fighting aterminal illness, and upon his death bed, he shared aterrifying story in which the Russians threw a husband “We burrowed down in the straw and curledand bride to a pack of wolves in order to maintain their up close together, watching the angry red diesurvival. out of the west and the stars begin to shine in The coming of Nebraska’s brutal winter seemed the clear, windy sky… We lay still and did notto dampen the relationship between Jim and Antonia, talk. Up there the stars grew magnificentlycooping Jim up inside his grandfather’s house with theonly adventures being an occasional sleigh ride with bright. Though we had come from suchAntonia, the death and burial of Mr. Shimerdas, and the different parts of the world, in both of us therejoyful Christmas shared within the Burden household. was some dusky superstition that those shining groups have their influence upon what is and what is not to be (Cather 46).”
After four years on the farm, the Burdens move into BlackHawk, while Otto and Jake decide the time has come for them topart ways with the Burdens and venture West. In the city, Jimbegins school in earnest and learns to be social with other boysand girls his age. As time passes, Jim learns more and more about BlackHawk’s strict social ladder, in which the hired folk (such as Antonia)are to remain separate from the city people. However, Jim findsthe hired women to be much less dull than those of the city,especially a dressmaker by the name of Lena Lingard. The freedom of the hired girls begins to make Jim restless,which drives him to a saloon. This brings scandal to the BlackHawk community, but Jim can’t seem to beat off the feeling thathe’s cooped up. To cope, he begins attending dances in town afterhis grandparents have gone to bed, where he meets up withAntonia. After walking her back to the detestable Cutter’s home,Jim attempts to steal a kiss from Antonia, but is denied. Ratherthan feeling dejected, however, Jim is satisfied by her modesty. The dancing stops abruptly when Jim finds hisgrandmother crying because of his deceitfulness, and inatonement, he begins a rigorous study schedule in preparation forcollege. Jim makes a speech for his high school’s commencement “Her warm, sweet face, her kind arms, andwhich he dedicates to Antonia’s late father, which results in the true heart in her; she was, oh, she wasAntonia crying in bliss. still my Antonia! I looked with contempt at In favor to Antonia, Jim house-sits in the Cutter residence, the dark, silent little houses about me as Iwhere he is awoken one night to find Mr. Cutter enraged that Jim walked home, and thought of the stupidis in Antonia’s place. His plan had been to slip in and rape Antonia, young men who were asleep in some ofbut Jim has foiled this by sleeping in her stead, narrowly escaping them. I knew where the real women were,Mr. Cutter’s wrath. though I was only a boy; and I would not be afraid of them, either (Cather 152)! “
Now attending college, Jim has come under thewing of an up-and-coming scholar by the name of Gaston Cleric.Making board with an ancient husband and wife on the outskirtsof Lincoln, Jim becomes a diligent young man, working hard to getahead in his academics. Sophmore year at the university brings Jim anunexpected visitor, Lena Lingard, who now makes dresses inLincoln. She brings with her news of Antonia, who is engaged to aman named Larry Donovan. Lena also brings Jim company in theform of a date to the theatre. For the remainder of his time at theuniversity, Jim and Lena see each other consistently, until Cleric isoffered a position at Harvard, and makes requests for Jim tofollow him to Massachusetts. At the finish of the semester, Jimvisits home in Black Hawk for a few weeks before ultimatelyleaving for Harvard, with a stop in Virginia to visit old relatives. Two years at Harvard pass, after which Jim returnshome for the summer before he must return East for law school.Curiosity over Antonia is stirred up, and Jim makes the decision tovisit the widow who inhabits his old farm house in the country,where he has been told he will learn of her plight with LarryDonovan. His trip proves fruitful, for Widow Steaphens shareswith him the story of Antonia’s mysterious unweddedreappearance in Black Hawk, and the unexpected birth of herchild. After sleeping in his childhood bedroom, Jim walks “As I went back alone over thatto the Shimerda’s, where he reunites with Antonia. They share a familiar road, I could almost believenostalgic walk through the Nebraska landscape of their childhood,describing to each other their plans for the future. Their stroll that a boy and girl ran along besideends with Jim promising to see her again after law school, and me, as our shadows used to do,Antonia promising to never forget him. laughing and whispering to each other in the grass (Cather 203).”
With the largest gap yet, Jim is now in his forties,having been away from Black Hawk for twenty years. His returnhome is owed to the convenience of the stop as he makes hisway back to New York from business in the West, coupled withhis desire (which was prodded by Lena and Tiny) to drop in onAntonia and her husband Cuzak. Upon his arrival at the Cuzak farm, Jim goeswithout recognition by Antonia for a moment, until she isflooded by memories of times gone by and calls for her familyto meet him. Jim is given a tour of Antonia’s home, which isinfinitely better than the Shimerda farm of the past. The hoursgive way to the reminiscing of childhood friends, buteventually Jim makes bed in the hay loft with Antonia’schildren. The following day, the gruesome murder of Mrs.Cutter at the hands of her husband, and his subsequent suicideis revealed. Jim then talks at length with Cuzak. After one finalday with Antonia, Jim makes his leave of the family witheverybody wishing him well as he departs to see Black Hawk “I had the sense of coming home to myself, andone final time. of having found out what a little circle man’s He finds the city unfamiliar, and is hard pressed to experience is. For Antonia and for me, this hadsee things he recognizes. Eventually, the outskirts of town give been the road of Destiny; had taken us to thoseJim the nostalgia he desires, and his detection of a trace of the early accidents of fortune which predeterminedroad from his youth which leads to the countryside brings him for us all that we can ever be. Now I understoodto sit peacefully and watch the sun set over the familiar that the same road was to bring us togetherlandscape. again. Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the previous, the incommunicable past (Cather 229).”
• Coming to the end of the left wall, we reach the upper left corner of the My Antonia wing, where we have on display another exhibit.
In the upper left corner ofour exhibit, we have a one-of-a-kindjukebox with dimensions of 2*2*6,complimented by an engraving whichquotes Cather, “*A book+ must leave inthe mind of the sensitive reader anintangible residuum of pleasure; acadence, a quality of voice that isexclusively the writers own, individual,unique. A quality that one canremember without the volume athand, can experience …as one canexperience in memory a melody,”(Cather, 1925). In My Antonia, Catherseems to pick every word in such a waythat the novel flows with a musicalquality. Her self proclaimed love ofmusic (Cather, 1925) helped her toachieve a writing style in My Antoniathat leaves the reader with a“residuum of pleasure,” so we haveexhibited a jukebox which plays anaudio recording of the book. Thejukebox hints at the musical quality ofthe text, while the story itself carries aharmony to satisfy visitors.
Now we have reached the central wall,where the fun lies! Each station isinteractive, so feel free to touch theexhibits. However, please maintain yourclockwise path, for the wall on the rightstarts fresh from the beginning, detailingAntonia’s growth through the progressionof the book.
On ceilingCreate your ownsunsetEveryone who has read My Antonia remembersthe enlightening sunset described on page 163,where the sun encompasses a plough while itsets. Visitors can now learn the science behindthose majestic sunsets and create their own. Onthe left side of the center wall, there is acomputer which allows guests to determine thetime, cloud coverage, season, and humidity thatthey want to have their sunset occur at. Then,their very own sunset will be projected onto theceiling for the other visitors to admire as theywalk throughout the exhibit. Where? Low or high? set On wall
In the novel when Jim July 17, 1905 talks about the Partly Cloudy landscape, the readers can tell that the way he Summer describes it display his High Humidity current emotions. “Even while we whispered about it, our vision disappeared; the ball dropped and dropped until the red tip went beneath the earth. The fields below us were dark, the sky was growing pale, and that forgotten plough had sunk back to its own littleness somewhere on the prairie (Cather 163).”The Nebraskan prairie is the primary settingfor My Antonia. It serves as a symbol forfreedom throughout the book. Willa focusesthe majority of her writing in the first book onthe plains and the important role they play inJim’s life.
Just Dance, Mrs. Vanni’s editionIn the middle of the center wall, located betweenthe sunset simulator and the meet the charactersinteractive device, there will be a dance simulatortaking up four by three feet of space, wherevisitors can learn the dance moves taught by Mrs.Vanni on Saturday nights in Black Hawk (Cather131)! The game’s controls resemble that of thepopular “Dance Dance Revolution,” franchise.Players stare intently at the top screen to watchan animated replica of Antonia dance, and thenattempt to replicate her moves, viewing theirefforts on the bottom screen. Because of the freedom lent toAntonia through Mrs. Vanni’s dance pavilion,along with the various other dance halls thatsprung up in Black Hawk, we felt it would be ashame to let her moves go to waste. Since dancehalls were the center of attention in a largeportion of the book, it was decided the dancemachine should be an attraction!
My Antonia introduces a riad of characters throughout the ry which come and go at the oddest imes. In an attempt to organize and p track of the long list of importantople in the novel, the final exhibit ng the central back wall is the “Meet Characters,” 30” touch-screen. The home page displaysee family trees, accompanied by two er categories. Each individual is able of being brought onto the Initial Narratoreen to introduce (or refresh your mory, if you’ve already read theok,) the corresponding character by ply poking the desired name. Pink lines on the family-tree resent marriages, red linesmbolize deaths (and in one case,mination of engagement), blue linesnify important relationships, and ite lines entail offspring (or siblings).
Josiah Burden (Grandpa)• Josiah Burden was the father of Jim’s late father. A religious man, Grandfather Burden spoke rarely, but always wisely.
Emmaline Burden (Grandma)• A compassionate woman, Jim’s grandmother enjoyed taking care of her home properly. Despite her annoyance at Mrs. Shimerda’s rudeness, she helped the Bohemian’s multiple times.
Jim’s Parents• Within the first paragraph, Jim’s parents are dead. The only role they play in the story is their loss of guardianship over their ten year old boy due to their deaths.
James Quayle Burden (Jim)• The focal point of the story, Jim is introduced to us late in his life with the introduction, but the body of the story begins with him in his childhood. Supposedly the novel was written by Jim and given to the narrator as a description of his childhood neighbor and close friend, Antonia. We are exposed to the growth and maturation of Jim throughout the story, as he turns from farm boy, to well educated lawyer.
Gaston Cleric• A “brilliant and inspiring” (Cather 169) scholar who takes Jim under his wing almost immediately upon his entry to college, the instructorship at Harvard offered to Cleric allows Jim to attend the prestigious university. The death of Gaston left a deep mark on Jim.
Otto Fuchs• A rough Austrian employed by Grandfather Burden, Otto has experienced much of the world, and relates his travels in entertaining stories. His cowboy attributes get the best of him by the end of book one, dragging him back West for some adventure.
Jake Marpole• The only reminder of Jim’s life before Nebraska, Jake accompanied the young Jim to find work with Grandfather Burden after his previous employer (the late Mr. Burden) passed away. Jake plays the role of an older brother to Jim, but follows Otto West by the end of book one.
???• Jim’s wife, who has that title because of the position it granted Jim, and the freedom she retained as his beau. According to the initial narrator, a rather miserable lady.
Peter Krajiek• A nasty Bohemian who sold the Shimerdas their first home for far more than it was worth.
Mr. Shimerda• Mr. Shimerda moved to America with a heavy heart. His homeland of Bohemia was very dear to him. Because of his wife’s relentless begging, he moved the family to the “promise land,” and gave up happiness. This is expressed by his reluctance to play the violin, which reminded him of the glory days in Bohemia.
Mrs. Shimerda• A manipulative woman, Mrs. Shimerda forced the family to come to America in hopes her favorite son Ambrosch would find success. Her rudeness and lack of humility find her few true friends.
Ambrosch• The eldest of the Shimerda children, Ambrosch was expected to go far. His brutish nature occasionally gave way to a soft side, but he found himself on Jim’s bad side, and under the fist of Jake on one occasion.
Antonia• Antonia is introduced as a young immigrant lass, on her way to make a new home in the same place Jim finds himself making home. Her place in Jim’s mind is rivaled by nobody, and her adventures with him are the main focus of the book.
Yulka• As the baby girl of the Shimerda clan, Yulka tags along with Jim and Antonia, and lives in the Cuzak household in the final years of the novel.
Marek• The youngest Shimerda boy, Marek is full of energy, most likely mentally deficient, and likes to surprise people with his webbed hands.
Larry Donovan• Antonia’s groom to be, Larry ditches her before the wedding in search of a fortune in Mexico, leaving her carrying his seed.
Anton Cuzak• The man who Antonia ends up with, Cuzak shares a very similar up bringing with Antonia. For his brief role in the book, Anton seems a kind man, and gives Antonia many children.
Anton Jelinek• The Burden’s neighbor in the country, he plays a short role in book one at the time of Mr. Shimerda’s death, and goes on to run a saloon in Black Hawk. Jelinek is uncle to Cuzak.
Martha• Martha is the child of Donovan and Antonia, and by the end of the book she has a baby of her own.
Assorted children• The large family of Anton’s loins is actually large. Like. 10 of em.
Mr. Harling• The patriarch of the Harling household, which happens to neighbor the Burden home. The Harlings are a country family, and thusly interact well with the Burdens. For the extra help, Mr. Harling hires Antonia, but disapproves of her dancing, and ultimately kicks her out.
Mrs. Harling• A wonderfully charming woman, Mrs. Harling enjoys Antonia and Jim’s company, and hosts many games for her children and the former two to enjoy.
Frances• The eldest Harling child, Frances has a cool, calculating head. Her business skills go unrivaled, and even Jim’s Grandfather praises her ability.
Charley• Charley’s mind is filled with militaristic aspirations, and this lands him in a successful position at the Naval Academy of Annapolis.
Julia• Julia Harling is musically inclined, and the same age as Jim. She plays very little role in the story.
Sally• The Harling baby is fiery tomboy, who can apparently beat Jim in an arm-wrestling match.
Lena Lingard• Lena plays an important role in Jim’s life. In Black Hawk, the Norwegian’s relationship is not a serious one. However, in the way Jim can’t think romantically of Antonia, the opposite seems to be true for Lena. During Jim’s college years, Lena becomes a more developed character who shares a serious relationship with Jim until his departure for Harvard.
Tiny Soderball• Starting out alongside Lena and Antonia as one of Black Hawk’s hired girls, Tiny makes a fortune in Alaska thanks to gold. Near the end of the story, Tiny lives in San Francisco, near Lena. Her negative opinion of Cuzak is expressed to Jim before he sees Antonia for the last time.
Peter and Pavel• The two Russian brothers living near the Shimerda’s, Peter and Pavel speak no English, leaving Antonia to translate for Jim whenever they visit the pair. Pavel is in poor health, and they are in debt to the town lending shark, Wick Cutter. In their final scene, the reason for their emigration is revealed. Pavel dies in front of Jim and Antonia, and Peter boards a train after selling everything he owned, never to be seen again.
Widow SteavensThe Widow Steavens owned the housebetween the Burden’s country farm and BlackHawk until the end of book one, when shebought the Burden’s place. Steavens reveals toJim Antonia’s story before he visits her in thelast chapters of the novel.
Wick Cutter• The notorious moneylender, Mr. Cutter employs and houses Antonia after she is ejected from the Harling residence. Jim foils his plot to have his way with Antonia, and in the end, it is revealed he murdered his wife and then took his own life.
Mrs. Cutter• The unfortunate wife of Wick, Mrs. Cutter argues with her husband constantly, until he shuts her up for good.
Samson d’Arnault• The blind black pianist who breaks up the monotony of Jim’s first winter in Black Hawk, the description given by Cather of Samson is that of a stereotypical black man of the era. The book’s intended audience should be kept in mind while reading d’Arnault’s chapter.
Mrs. Vanni• The origin of Black Hawk’s dance craze, the Italian dance instructor hosts the pavilion which lures Antonia into her “rebellious” lifestyle.
Mr. Vanni• The other Vanni, Mr. Vanni provides the musical ambiance for the dancing tent with his angelic harp.
Initial Narrator• All we know about the narrator is that she was a business partner of the elder Jim introduced at the beginning of the story. She’s on a train in Iowa, dislikes Jim’s wife, and through some connection, knows Antonia.
After having your fill of interactive exhibits,your walk should continue down the right wallof the room. Antonia’s life will be displayed byfour posters and plaques, along with audioexerts to mimic her change in diction as shebegins to master English. Again, the displaysare organized chronologically to depict thetheme of change which shows up repeatedlyin My Antonia.
When you have come to the end of Antonia’s display, fiveexhibits remain unviewed. Exhibit Location - Word painting: three feet in front of the entrance - Road sculpture: three feet continuing past word painting - Black Hawk Model: dead center of the room - Sensory Station: centered on the exterior wall of the train car - Distance Walked: displayed next to the exit door
My Just as Cather, we have put on display a paintingAntonia contains comprised of words alone, threewithin its binding a feet away from the entrance to thewonderful example room. This towering masterpiece renders adjectives that relate to theof what an author different elements of the picture incan do with words. a pattern that replicates the sceneWilla Cather shows Jim describes on page 163 of My Antonia. In this scene, a lone ploughher mastery of the abandoned in a field isEnglish language by superimposed upon the setting sun.painting landscapes However, the plough is not comprised solely of wordsand detailing the which might be used to describe ainner workings of the plough, but also words to describetown of Black Hawk’s civilization. The same goes for the sun, the image is not limited tosocial ladder by using solar descriptors alone, butwords alone. In the vocabulary to describe nature innovel, her first hand general as well. The artist chose to impose these words because of theexperience in the way Willa used the scene as aprairie of Nebraska is symbol for the manner societyshared with the exists on top of nature, or similarly, an image that cannot exist withoutreader in the its beautiful background.beautiful settings shedescribes throughJim’s eyes.
It’s no secret Willa has aknack for giving her readers a crispmental image of the scenes sheelaborates upon, the perplexity lies inhow she manages to do so. Locatedthree feet behind the easel holding theword picture, an animate statuecomposed of road imitates a descriptionused twice in My Antonia, “that roadwhich used to run like a wild thingacross the open prairie,” (Cather 228).The statue lurches about inresemblance to an enraged beast (orrather, a “wild thing”). The significancebehind this piece is the way itsymbolizes Cather’s heavy usage ofmetaphors, similes, and personificationto build clear images of settings andcharacters in the novel.
Black Hawk comes to lifeIn the center of the room there willbe a four’ by four’ model of BlackHawk, so that visitors may catch aglimpse of both what the town looked 1like, and where the many characters 2lived and interacted with one another.This model will contain numberedstickers on buildings and other areasthat will correlate to matchingdescriptions on the edges of the table 1 Jim’s house 2 The Harling’s home whereit rests on. Antonia works and lives for a while.
Another tool in Cather’s arsenal used for sharpening the images in MyAntonia was her ability to appeal to the reader’s five senses. Jim’s adventures arerelated not only through transpiring events, but also the textures and weight of whathe’s handling, the odor of his surroundings, the tastes of his meals, the intensity andtone picked up by his ears, and of course, the images displayed before his eyes. In an attempt to physically translate My Antonia’s text, the sensory stationexhibit centered against the train car offers tantalization for four of the five senses.The goggles play a panoramic video of the Nebraskan grassland, accompanied by asymphony of crickets, hawks, and various other critters emitted through theheadphones. A modified gas mask wafts the scent of Grandma Burden’s sausage andwaffles, while a patch of synthetic red grass lies ready to titillate your sense of touch.