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My Ántonia
My Ántonia
by Willa Cather
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Challenges & Opportunities of Teaching My Ántonia

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Sample of Challenges & Opportunities

My Ántonia is one of those books that can make you fall in love with something as harsh and unforgiving as life on the Nebraska plains. Chalk it up to Cather's prose: a balanced mix of spare language and romantic descriptions. The strength of Cather's book lies in this ability to create a sense of nostalgia for a quintessential American landscape and past without ever resorting to cheesy clichés. In fact, the beauty of Cather's writing might even make you ignore My Ántonia's essentially plotless nature.

But…Where's the Story?

Okay great. The novel's beautifully written, but you have a roomful of students who'd rather read or watch the Twilight series, with all its death, sex, and romance, than some restrained novel about the pioneering immigrants in Nebraska. Indeed, you'd be hard-pressed to find a student who loves any book just because of its beautiful prose (unless that student's a budding lit major). Most kids—heck, most people—read because the story captivates. What do you do, then, if a story doesn't have a central plot filled with action and romance?

First, let's just point out that it's not like Cather doesn't try. There are elements for a romantic plot (Jim and Ántonia, Jim and Lena, even Ántonia and her first "husband"). There's even the potential for villains (like brusque, dishonest Ambrosch and the often ungrateful, suspicious Mrs. Shimerda) and protagonists (Ántonia and Jim, of course). Plus, obstacles abound in the novel. The land is rough and unforgiving; the Shimerdas are impoverished, new immigrants in a sometimes unwelcoming community. So the real question readers should be asking themselves isn't "Where's the plot?" but "Why don't any of these plots become an actual story?"