Create a Compelling Argument

Let’s celebrate this great documentary on Willa Cather’s letters more. Again, we’ll review first the section around minute 19 where Cather receives the mentorship of Sarah Orne Jewett to find a quiet center in her life and compose literature.

Now, moving forward, let’s have you make an argument (In 5-7 sentences of Standard English), for the best AP Prompt that illuminates the most profound literary qualities of Cather’s novel, My Antonia. If someone else has claimed the same prompt that you had in mind, then write another perspective to that argument. Profound topics elicit complex responses. Here is a copy of the document: Open-ended Questions for Advanced Placement Literature: ap lit. open-ended questions

About Bill Sullivan

I am an English teacher working with great students at Suffield Academy. I also teach seniors in various project-based learning environments. Some of the #PBL topics included global issues, such as Pandemics, Climate Change, and Water; more recently I have asked students to research and identify topics important to our school community and their generation. We curate these topics with a #StudentCenteredPBL. For the past eleven years, I also created a driving question for a class to research a local history mystery and present their findings in a community program partnering with our local historical society. These topics encompass researching the lives of enslaved individuals who were contributors to the foundation of our community.
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15 Responses to Create a Compelling Argument

  1. Vivian says:

    I think the best prompt for My Antonia is 1977. In the Introduction, the readers are introduced to Jim, who is competing in writing a story of his past. The prompt describes a protagonist talking about their past and how it relates to the story currently. His recollections are what the audience views in the first chapters of the book, which are memories of his adventures and trials with his friend, Antonia. Throughout these first few chapters the audience hears the good and bad memories, and the stories that seem to be bringing the two closer together. As the book progresses, their relationship with each other will become clearer as Jim continues to talk about their memories.

  2. Sam says:

    I think the best AP prompt for My Antonia would be the 1991 prompt. In this prompt, students are told to write about a novel that creates two contrasting places that represent different ideas or meanings within the literary work. I think that this topic would be perfect for My Antonia because Cather intentionally portrays the country setting, where Antonia and Jim lived at the beginning of the text, and Black Hawk, the city where they eventually move to, as very district areas. These two places are different in many ways because of the ideas each community values. In both places, Cather illustrates how people act differently, participate in different jobs, have contrasting values, and their different morals all together. She highlights these differences to convey how society can shape individuals in different ways, through the use of these diverse areas.

  3. Aiden Miller says:

    The best AP prompt for My Ántonia is the 1986 prompt. In this prompt, one is told to write about how the author’s manipulation of time affects the work as a whole. This is a perfect topic for My Ántonia because Cather has the novel span over many years in Jim’s life. Cather goes through time chronologically, but slows down at certain points to express how Jim has changed as a person, how he perceives his life, and where he currently is. For example, when Jim initially moves to Black Hawk at the beginning of the novel, Jim is young and wide-eyed and just getting used to the vast openness of Nebraska. After telling the story at this point for a while, Cather speeds up to a couple years later where the Burden’s move to a town in Black Hawk. After telling the story here and showing the type of person Jim now is, time fast forwards to his late teen and college years and so on. Cather uses time to delve deeper into each character and show how they have grown or changed as time as changed around them.

  4. Michaela Grace Domino says:

    There are many AP prompts that would be great opportunities for discussion about the book My Antonia by Willa Cather, but I am choosing to respond to the 2006 6 prompt that goes as follows, “Many writers use a country setting to establish values within a work of literature. For example, the country may be a place of virtue and peace or one of primitivism and ignorance. Choose a novel or play in which such a setting plays a significant role. Then write an essay in which you analyze how the country setting functions in the work as a whole.” I believe that this prompt truly illuminates the some of the most profound literary qualities of Cather’s novel through having the reader take the setting into account. It is something that is very valuable to the main character, and can be very well covered in this specific question, as his motherland was in the heart of Nebraska, in the middle of nowhere. Each and every character in this novel is thoroughly shaped by their surroundings. Forming a connection with either where they might have immigrated from or where they were born and bred that never leaves them. I am excited to write about this prompt and delve deeper into the land that Jim Burden and everyone he loves know best.

  5. Sohi Shah says:

    I think the best prompt for the the novel My Antonia by Willa Cathers is the 1995 prompt which asks the writer to describe how a character’s alienation reveals the culture of a society. This seems appropriate for this novel because Antonia struggles with many things throughout the novel that provide insight on the cultural norms of the time. For example, Antonia’s upbringing as an immigrant girl is very different than those of girls from town. Her struggles and her experiences delineate what it was like being an immigrant during that time period and how she was never an equal in society. Also way this prompt could help illuminate the profound literary qualities is because it allows one to discuss how Antonia is treated as a woman. The obstacles and setbacks she faces as a woman in this novel portray how society acted towards woman during this time. Overall, this prompt provides many opportunities to analyze how Antonia’s alienation illustrates the morals of society in that time period.

  6. Justin Hern says:

    In my opinion, 2008 Form B is a prompt that one could use to create an interesting essay about My Antonia. It asks about the theme of childhood and adolescence. Sometimes, childhood is portrayed is a time of struggle for the protagonist and other times it is a time of carefree happiness. In my opinion, My Antonia strikes an interesting balance between the two sides. Jim lives a happy life as a child, enjoying his time exploring the countryside and meeting great people like Antonia, Otto, and many others, but he also has to deal with some struggles, such as having to work hard and Antonia’s father’s suicide. This balance makes it so that the writer has options in which case they want to make. They could argue that the struggles Jim went through helped him to grow up, the happiness he had then is something that he looks back on longingly, or even make an argument about how the book shows both sides of Jim’s adolescence.

  7. Caroline Walsh says:

    I think that the best AP prompt to write an essay regarding the story My Ántonia would be the 1976 prompt. This prompt asks students to write about a character that is in opposition to his or her society, analyze the conflict, and dicuss the moral and ethical implications for both the individual and the society. This story takes place in the past when gender roles were established and there was a very big distiction between men and women. Men worked in the fields, while women worked at home. Ántonia is an example of a woman who does not conform to gender roles, as she wants to work in the fields like her brother and will not take no as an answer. Jim recognizes Ántonia’s oppostion to societal norms as she is much more indepentent and strong-minded than typical woman of the time, who would stay at home and cook or clean and never speak their mind. One clear example of Ántonia’s resistance was when she went into town to work as a cook for Mr. Hurling; however, when he tells her that she cannot go out into town to dance anymore, she cannot bear this thought and instead works for a much harsher and ruder man by the name of Mr. Cutter. Unlike many of the women of the time period, Ántonia would not comply to this man and would not give up her freedom of happiness and dancing to work for him. As a whole, Ántonia is clearly in opposition to her society, as most women of that time period lived in the shadow of a man, while Ántonia lives her own life and creates her own path.

  8. hailey williams says:

    I think the best prompt is the 2012 prompt, which asks the writer to discuss how geographical, cultural, and physical surroundings shape the the morality of a character. The country setting of Black Hawk is an important part of Jim’s life, and is where he and Antonia first start to build their relationship. In terms of cultural surroundings, he is surrounded by Antonia and her family, and whose culture becomes important to him as well. The physical surroundings and the people that Jim is surrounded by help to shape Jim’s moral traits and himself as a whole.

  9. Gabriella Tosone says:

    I think the 1995 AP prompt is most suiting to Willa Cather’s My Antonia. One of the biggest themes and issues present in the novel is social class and the characters that are isolated from society due to these issues. Willa Cather highlights the struggles of immigrant life in society and uses her character development Antonia to illustrate the difficulties of living as an immigrant in the society. This theme of alienation based on social class reveals the views of society and how Antonia must overcome them as one who is both a woman and an immigrant. Her differences alienate her from society, therefore revealing what society sees as acceptable and forces her to find ways in life to overcome and deal with the alienation forced upon her. This prompt allows for the reflection on this major theme of the work and encourages the reader to look at My Antonia in a unique and important way in order to see how the lives of Antonia and Jim, the narrator, differ as well. Antonia’s struggles are described through Jim’s memory of the past as the narrator. The 1995 prompt allows for a more careful and detailed understanding of how social class plays a significant role in the alienation of immigrant characters like Antonia herself as well as displays the differences between Antonia and the narrator, Jim.

  10. nicolestjacques says:

    Upon reading the AP prompts, I have decided that the 2008 form B prompt perfectly encompassed the motifs expressed throughout Willa Cather’s My Antonia. The question reads:
    In some works of literature, childhood and adolescence are portrayed as times graced by innocence and a sense of wonder; in other works, they are depicted as times of tribulation and terror. Focusing on a single novel or play, explain how its representation of childhood or adolescence shapes the meaning of the work as a whole.” In My Antonia, Jim regards his childhood with Antonia with an ephemeral and unforgettable Nebraskan nostalgia. From the introduction, it is apparent that Jim is unable to shake Black Hawk and the Nebraskan countryside from his memory. His retelling of the story leads the audience to believe that Jim is enamored with this innocence and sense of wonder as he becomes a part of a Bohemian, and later a school boy. His fond view of the past is embodied by the novel’s epigram: “Optima dies…prima fugit (The best days are the first to flee)”. However, Antonia’s upbringing is different than Jims. As an immigrant thrown into work from a very young age, she faces many hardships such as Mr. Shmirda’s death and adjustments to a new life. Antonia remarks that life will be easy for Jim, but difficult for her and her family. These dueling representations of childhood and adolescence that shape the children’s futures could make for a great analysis on Willa Cather’s My Antonia.

  11. Claudia Carey says:

    I think the best AP prompt for My Antonia is the 1977 prompt. Asking students to write about a significant social occasion and how it contributes to the text as a whole, this prompt provides the opportunity to analyze Mr. Shimerda’s death as well as the larger role it plays in the story overall. When Willa Cather describes the preparation and execution of his funeral, she reveals many social norms throughout the community in which Jim lives. For instance, it divulges the community’s intolerance of suicide as a religious society when no graveyard will except his casket, and it discloses the boldness of the Shimerdas when they decide to bury him on the corner of their property, which is very unusual to others. Moreover, even though people do not approve of his suicide, their appearance at Mr. Shimerda’s funeral shows the social expectation that one should show up to such an occasion. Overall, this prompt allows one to reveal many social norms in the society by examining the larger meaning behind Mr. Shimerda’s funeral.

  12. Vartika says:

    In my opinion, I believe the best AP prompt for My Antonia would be 1977. In this prompt, students must choose a work that looks to a character’s past with meaningful recollections and depicts how the past heavily impacts a major theme of the work. This prompt emphasizes Jim’s longing to reconnect with his past as it drastically differs from his present self. In a way, the past seems more familiar and pleasantly nostalgic, making it feel more ideal than the present. The past opens up many memories for Jim and he notes the powerful connections he had with certain people back in Nebraska. The past events he focuses on depict personal situations that have stuck with him for a long time and still have an impact on his present self. Overall, the work centers around Jim’s memoir and displays his expressive memories of the past.

  13. AnuDaramola says:

    The best prompt to apply to My Ántonia is 2003, Form B because, in the book, the characters are caught in between colliding cultures. Ranging from national to regional to ethnic to institutional to even religious, the sense of identity of a character can be called into question. For this prompt, I would choose Lena Lingard and her response to the regional collision she experiences. The shock of going from farm life to city life has an apparent impact on her character. She goes from being a shy, sheltered farm girl to a confident and ambitious woman. Her response to the regional change and collision results in her personal character development. Her new independence is seen through instances such as her confidence when speaking to men, her comfortability with her sexuality and needs, and even in her desire and ability to send money back to her mother at the farm. The relevance of this to the work as a whole is seen within the theme of development and change. Lena is caught between the colliding regional culture of farm vs city life. Her sense of identity is called into question and she chooses to thrive and assimilate in the culture and life of the city. She is a representation of change and development within the work.

  14. I believe that the best prompt for My Antonia is 1997 Prompt 1. This prompt focuses on the idea of recollection – a character trying to remember and capture their past. I believe this relates to Jim and Antonia in my Antonia because throughout the novel, they both battle with their longing for a past that they can no longer retrieve. Antonia many times struggles with her separation from Bohemia and Jim recollects about his life living in Nebraska, starkly different from his new life as a lawyer. Both characters are able to recreate these pasts, whether simply by remembering, physically going back to their roots (In Antonia’s case at the end), or even reaching out to old friends like Jim. Both of these characters yearn for the past and create a theme of nostalgia within My Antonia. I believe prompt 1997 best relates to the theme captured in My Antonia, and Jim & Antonia depict this idea of longing for the past.

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