Interpreting Literature: Session IV My Antonia 2015-03-19

Analyzing Book Two

Albert Rutherston, “Laundry Girls” 1906 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!