Analyzing Books Three - Five
We finished up our discussion of our novel, My Ántonia, with a thorough review of the events and details of Books Three - Five. Make sure you are familiar with the novel before our final quiz by reviewing your active reading charts and short answer questions.
For the final quiz, you will need to recall story content, study the Key Facts handout, and all vocabulary from the Glencoe Guide. You also need to know the meaning of elegiac and nostalgic.
Related Readings: Virgil and The House on Mango Street
"Optima dies...prima fugit." The best days...are the first to flee.
The above quote comes from the Georgics, an instructive poem written about farming by the epic Roman poet Virgil and translates to "The best days…are the first to flee." Jim studies Virgil when he's away at college and specifically mentions this line at the end of Book 3, Chapter 2. It also happens to be the epigraph. There are two major connections to My Ántonia in this epigraph. The first is the actual line – the best days are the first to flee. My Ántonia is a romanticized look back at the past, and the fleeting nature of youth is a major theme in the novel. Jim in particular is enamored of long-gone better days. The second connection has to do with the source of this quote, the Georgics. In this lengthy poem, Virgil discusses the virtues of the farming life while teaching his readers the best way to live off the land. The relationship between man and the natural world is another central theme in the novel. Part of the romantic veneer of Jim's memoir has to do with his admiration for the vast, beautiful open spaces of the Nebraska landscape. There is also a connection here to Cather's own life, because she studied Latin and Greek herself both in high school and in college. We can see Cather's own love for these ancient languages reflected in Jim's passion, and of course in this choice of epigraph.
Virgil was the master of metaphorical language and is known for his epic use of simile. To drive home this concept we did a couple of fun exercises where we "Built a Better Metaphor" and a "Fill in the Blank" simile exercise. Both were good for several laughs!
To wrap things up, we read five selections from The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. From Amazon.com: "Told in a series of vignettes – sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous – it is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become. Few other books in our time have touched so many readers." If you can grab a copy at the library, I think it's well worth taking an hour or two to read through some of these short sketches.
Final Project - Family Tree Essay
Analyzing Book Two
We had a good discussion yesterday of Book Two of My Ántonia. We talked about the "hired girls" and how they were different from the townspeople in Black Hawk. They were always the daughters of immigrant farmers from the country and some worked as domestics, some in hotels, some were dressmakers, and some "laundry girls." They sent money home to help with expenses, and in some cases were able to provide wood frame homes for their families that had up until that time been living in sod houses on the prairie.
We also discussed some of the plot that wasn't too clear and set up our discussion of Book Three for next week. Finish the novel this week and check your syllabus for all homework.
Literary Devices Exercise
Before discussing our next essay assignment we read a short Langston Hughes poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." Our challenge was to identify the number of times simile, metaphor, and personification were used. Mr. Langston was fond of figurative language (see quote at left for a good example!).
We agreed personification is typically easy to spot, while occasionally simile vs. metaphor can be a bit trickier! Remember the definitions of each and that simile uses connective words such as "like," "as," or "than," or sometimes a verb like "resembles."
Figurative Language Essay
We spent a good half-hour looking through our novel for figurative language. We divided Book One into five parts and each student was tasked with finding two examples each of imagery or personification, simile, and metaphor. Again, metaphor was our Achilles heel, but everyone found brilliant examples of imagery, personification, and simile that they can use for this week's essay assignment.
To help you, here is a re-cap of what we discussed and an outline you can follow to complete your essay.
Essay Assignment: How important is figurative language to Willa Cather’s writing style? How does Cather’s use of imagery (or figurative language) communicate the themes of her novel?
First sentence(s): Address the first question--here are some things to think about: What would the novel be like without the extensive use of figurative language? Would it be as interesting to read? How does her language help you see in your mind's eye what the Nebraska prairie looks like? What about the characters? How does it help you get to know them? Hint: the answer to the first question is really in the second question. Figurative language is important because it communicates the theme(s) of the novel.
Your thesis statement can be the answer to the second question. Refer to the worksheet that we completed in class and remember the discussions we had about how the figurative language communicates or relates to the different themes.
As a reminder the themes we are focusing on are: humankind’s relationship to the past; humankind’s relationship to the environment; the immigrant experience in America
Preview the three types of figurative language you found (simile, metaphor, personification?) and what theme(s) you think they convey (these can be your three points). Remember the introduction should preview or forecast what you're going to talk about.
Three Body Paragraphs:
Use the worksheet to guide you in selecting the three quotes you want to use. Remember the proper citation after the quote--author and page number (for example; Cather, 12). Do not use a quote that is longer than four lines when you type it out, a longer quote than four lines is very unwieldy and you really want to narrow your focus on the bit of figurative language that conveys the theme(s).
It would be ideal to use one of each: personification or imagery (remember imagery is a word or phrase that refers to the five senses and helps create a physical experience), simile, and metaphor. If you end up using two metaphor and one simile, or some other combination, that is fine. State the type of figurative language you found and work the quote into your paragraph. Tell me how you think the quote communicates the theme(s). This will be the most challenging part, and can be your own opinion, just make sure it is logical!
Remember to pad with your own writing as much as possible. There is plenty of room here for personal opinion and interpretation. Repeat the above for paragraphs three and four.
Does not have to be overly structured. Review and restate in new language the three types of figurative language you covered and how they communicated the theme(s) of the novel. Wrap up with a brief summation of why figurative language is important to Willa Cather's writing style.
If you get stuck, email me and I will do my best to guide you through! See you next week. Two more classes and we have a one week Easter break before our final session!
After analyzing the Introduction and Book One of My Ántonia, we moved into an exercise on characterization. We talked about how, in real life, we get to know what a person is all about. We came up with a list that included actions, clothing, family life, favorite foods, location, names, occupation, physical appearances, props, social status, speech and dialogue, and thoughts and opinions.
We also reviewed the definitions of round and flat characters and direct and indirect characterization. After giving a few examples, I had the students think of a friend or acquaintance and describe him/her using at least three different types of characterization--same person, but three different sentences. After writing the three sentences, they chose the one they liked the best, shared it with the group, and then we decided which tool of characterization was used. Some were obvious and some more subtle. Some even used two types of characterization.
We then moved on to identifying direct vs. indirect characterization and tools of characterization in three different excerpts from popular literature (The Lorax, Hunger Games, and Harry Potter). This demonstrated that the author uses these tools so that the reader can learn important information about his/her characters. We applied our newfound knowledge to My Ántonia by choosing one main character and one supporting character, locating a quote within the text, and then performing the same steps of analyses as we did with the popular fiction. Hopefully this gave students some experience in quote identification for our next essay...
We talked about characterization because our next essay focuses on the characterization of the heroine of our story--Ántonia Shimerda. In crafting your essays this week, follow the Expository Essay Guide that I made for you, but bear in mind these very important modifications:
Introduction: Follow the guide; you still need a thesis, but not necessarily a thesis with tension since we are not really making a debatable claim this time--this is a character analysis. Remember the thesis is the controlling idea of the paper. Try not to simply state the obvious--a thesis statement should be a fresh idea or opinion that is supportable based on facts or evidence taken from the story. This may take some work, since in this case, the thesis statement is not an assertion to a question that was posed. The three points you are making can simply be what we discussed in class--that Ántonia is high-spirited, proud, and generous. If you feel that is debatable, and you want to make a claim that she has different personality traits, that is up to you!
Second - Fourth Paragraphs: Each point should have a quote from the book that supports the claim (she is "high-spirited" for paragraph 2, "proud" for paragraph 3, and "generous" for paragraph 4). After the quote from the book, place the author's last name and page number like this:
"After Ántonia had said the new words over and over, she wanted to give me a little chased silver ring she wore on her middle finger. When she coaxed and insisted, I repulsed her quite sternly. I didn't want her ring, and I felt there was something reckless and extravagant about her wishing to give it away to a boy she had never seen before" (Cather, 23).
Don't use more than four lines of text per quote and don't simply start the paragraph with the quote. It will be up to you to craft the paragraph in such a way that you use your own writing to explain why the quote supports the point. This is a less formulaic approach than our last essay.
Conclusion: You can follow the guide pretty exactly for the conclusion, although you do not necessarily need to "take a stand" or "persuade the reader" for this essay.
Any questions or confusion, just email me!
Warming up with Willa
After our three-minute free-write in our journals (we start every class this way; it gets us warmed up and underscores a topic or theme found in the novel we are reading/discussing at the moment), we conducted our usual 'round-the-table open notebook quiz on the background reading found in the Glencoe Guide.
Willa Cather did not want her novels to be read as veiled autobiography, but My Ántonia parallels many of her life’s experiences. Many literary scholars argue that Jim Burden is Willa Cather. For example, Jim and Cather both left Virginia as young children and lived on the Nebraska prairie. Cather’s family then moved to Red Cloud a year later; Jim’s family moves to the fictional town, Black Hawk. Cather gave her high school graduation speech, as does Jim; then they both studied at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. After graduation, they leave Nebraska for the east: Jim to study law at Harvard; Cather to work as editor at Home Monthly in Pittsburgh.
I love this quote from Cather:
Art must spring out of the very stuff that life is made of. The German housewife who sets before her family on Thanksgiving day a perfectly roasted goose, is an artist. The farmer who goes out in the morning to harness his team, and pauses to admire the sunrise—he is an artist.
We talked about this quote's meaning. How can a housewife be an artist if she hasn't painted anything? How is a farmer an artist if he's simply admiring the sunset? Cather was an author who was captivated by the simplicity of prairie life and expressed her thoughts in words that truly approach poetry. Cather quotes are absolutely life affirming. H.L. Mencken said, “No romantic novel ever written in America, by man or woman, is one half so beautiful as MY ANTONIA.”
As you read, notice places in the novel that are written in such a way as to conjure up a particular image. Re-read these parts to understand them better. Roll the images about in your mind. Taking the time to enjoy the novel in this way is not only far more engaging but (hint) will help you with another essay coming up in a few weeks!
In preparation for our expository essay writing assignment this week, we took some time to understand what makes a good paraphrase. Each student was to select a piece of research that they had identified as being valuable in providing points and particulars for their five-paragraph essay on the topic of immigration.
We read our articles with a view to choosing a point that we could put into our own words. We wanted to look for a point, not just a comment. A comment not worth paraphrasing will not have a specific fact or unique idea to contribute. Look for facts, data, statistics, or conclusions built on those things. Expert opinion also qualifies. (Be sure to include their qualifications: see Citing Sources below). Paraphrasing means taking ideas and putting them into your own words and sentence structure. The length and style of the sentence should be maintained, but the language and structure should be different.
We then chose the quote or piece of information that we wanted to practice paraphrasing and wrote it out exactly as it appeared. Then, on a separate sheet, we wrote out our own version WITHOUT looking at the original. We shared the original and then our paraphrase. These usually need more than one attempt. After the first attempt, you can go ahead and look at the original quote and try a second draft. I actually think all the students did pretty well on their first draft and some even had time for a second attempt. I wanted to practice summarizing as well, but that will have to wait for another day and time.
Important: Citing Sources
At the end of class we went over a guide to expository essay writing that I put together for the students. Please read the sample essay one time all the way through just to get the meaning. The second time compare the essay to the guide to see how this particular student followed the steps to complete the essay. Do not attempt to write an expository essay without reading one first. Would you attempt to write out instructions on how to ride a bike without knowing how to ride one yourself? Writing an expository essay without ever having read one is just as silly!
Once we become more comfortable with essay writing (e.g., next year) we can relax the formulaic approach. For now, follow the steps and you'll have success!
You will need this information to cite sources correctly for this essay:
Researchers place brief parenthetical descriptions to acknowledge which parts of their paper reference particular sources. Generally, you want to provide the last name of the author and page number if it’s from a book. If it's from the Internet, you will just put the author's name in parenthesis after the quote or bit that you are paraphrasing or summarizing. PLEASE UNDERSTAND, EVEN IF YOU ARE NOT USING A DIRECT QUOTE YOU MUST GIVE CREDIT. If such information is already given in the body of your sentence, then you don't need a parenthetical citation. Ideally, when citing on-line sources, try to reference the source within your sentence, with either the author or the title to avoid writing a parenthetical citation. Otherwise, place the parenthetical citation where there is a pause in the sentence – normally before the end of a sentence or a comma. If there is no author, use the title that begins the citation, either the article or website title. Be sure it also takes the same formatting as non on-line sources, i.e. articles are in quotes and website titles are italicized.
Next session we will learn how to include a "Works Cited" at the end of your paper (the bibliography).
Example of information taken from the Internet and you know the author's name:
The economy will rebound with the new monetary policies (Smith).
Example when you do not know the author's name, but you know the title of the article OR name of web-site:
Elephants are thought to be one of the smartest mammals (“Smart Elephants”). This came from an article--use quotes so I know it was an article.
Most importantly, if this is not clear, please ask. Citing sources is required for this paper--either within the sentence itself (preferred for on-line sources) or in-line parenthetically as described above.
Good luck and see you next week!
This is a forum where you can ask questions about your writing projects. We'll do our best to answer them or post helpful links to get you pointed in the right direction. Occasionally we may feature exceptional pieces of writing, such as poems or short stories/essays. To ask a question or to submit a piece for consideration, please email your question or writing piece to: