First Advisor

Nancy Porter

Term of Graduation

Spring 1995

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in English






Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909). Country of the pointed firs, Willa Cather (1873-1947). My Ántonia



Physical Description

1 online resource (86 pages)


Although Willa Cather's My Antonia and Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs have been highly regarded by numerous literary critics, neither text conforms to conventional expectations for narrative content or structure. Episodic in construction, the novels lack such traditional narrative ingredients as conflict, action, drama, and romance. Furthermore, explicit connections between episodes and stories related within the narratives are not drawn for the reader.

Formalist and structuralist critics have approached the problem of structure in Cather and Jewett's works by employing conventional literary tools of analysis, by "unearthing" the narrative elements that we as readers and critics have come to expect: identifiable structure, a plot complete with conflict and resolution, and characters that develop. Likewise, many feminist critics have sought to uncover in Cather and Jewett's work the ideal elements for a woman's text such as the employment of a feminine method of writing. Unfortunately, both approaches utilize interpretive templates that would pin down meaning and thus "solve" the texts' seeming peculiarities.

Instead of prescribing structure according to accepted conventions or ideals, this study attempts to describe the narrative construction of My Antonia and The Country of the Pointed Firs. I argue that these texts are not structures in a traditional linear fashion, but rather are "conversations" among a variety of "readers" -- the narrator, other characters, and the actual readers of the text -- who attempt to construct an understanding of the world around them, or the meaning of the overall story. The chapters in this thesis explore this dialogue present in Cather and Jewett's work; the various participating, as well as their proposed constructions.

Both Cather and Jewett, through their innovative narrative techniques, dramatize the human need to make sense of life, our capacity to create meaning, and at the same time the fallibility of such constructions. By employing a form which resists conventional strategies of explanation, Cather and Jewett encourage an interpretative approach that favors cumulative readings, a certain responsiveness, and an allowance for indeterminacy.


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