The Stories We Tell Ourselves: Oral Tradition as a Pedagogical Approach to Willa Cather's "My Antonia"

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English Language and Literature


While Willa Cather's "My Antonia" contains a wealth of instructional material, it is especially useful to today's students for its examination of universal issues and for its unique combination of oral storytelling with the written word. This paper presents a pedagogical approach through which instructors can make use of both critical and creative approaches to help students appreciate and understand the novel through the lens of oral tradition. It provides a framework for how instructors can pair the novel with examples of diverse voices from the early twentieth century, making it more accessible and applicable to students' experiences and cultures. By placing "My Antonia" within the context of a unit on oral tradition, students not only learn how to critically examine the stories told by characters within the text but also to explore perspectives that are excluded, particularly those of African Americans and Native Americans. This can be accompanied by a creative project in which students examine their own perspectives and practice active listening strategies through oral storytelling. By acknowledging the problematic aspects of the novel and giving students an opportunity to examine their own stories the way Cather and her narrator explore Antonia's, "My Antonia" becomes more than just a stuffy hundred-year-old novel-it becomes a catalyst for historical and narrative exploration.

First Advisor

Benjamin Hagen

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