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American Literature Close Reading on Willa Cather My Antonia Discussion

“My Antonia” by Willa Cather

Minimum Length: 1,100 words

To perform a close reading is to demonstrate how a literary text or passage has been crafted and how it achieves its effects. A good close reading illuminates and interprets its object of study. To do this, one selects some of the literary elements or rhetorical devices of the passage—for example, word choice, syntax, imagery, metaphor, structure, themes, setting, anaphora, hyperbole, foreshadowing, or etc.—and discusses them to show how they combine to create an effect on the reader, develop or expand a theme, or make an argument.

Selecting a Passage


  • You may select any passage from Cather’s novel except for those discussed at length in the course materials, namely, the passages on pages 42 and 140
  • Your passage should be between 3-7 sentences. No longer.
  • If you have taken this class before, do not choose the same passage as last time.

Structuring your Essay

Your essay should have four main sections in the order given below. Note and adhere to the deviations from a standard essay:

The title of your essay should begin the process of introduction by telling the reader something about the essay—do not just give us the assignment title

1) The Passage

Accurately reproduce the passage, word for word, in quotation marks, with the page number(s). The sentences should be contiguous; don’t take anything out of the passage. This section should stand alone at the top of your paper, above your writing.

2) The Thesis Section (1-3 sentences)

Next, immediately present your thesis without preliminaries. Include (in that sentence or the next one or two) some forecasting. All together, this short section should

  • Name the author
  • List the main literary elements you will discuss
  • Assert how those elements work to create the effect, theme, or argument of the passage
  • Suggest how the passage works in the novel as a whole

3) The Confirmation (several paragraphs)

This section will support your thesis section by showing how specific literary elements combine to establish the effect or argument of the passage. Your paper should discuss at least three literary elements (and/or rhetorical devices); you may certainly do more. You may discuss one literary element per paragraph, or you may bunch them in a logical fashion that effectively supports your thesis. Literary elements include (but are not limited to) diction, denotation, connotation, alliteration, rhyme, repetition, meter, mood, tone, setting, context, imagery, symbols, metaphor, figurative language, comparison, allusion, structure, parallelism, juxtaposition, opposition, and theme. Each and every paragraph of this section will include multiple instances of properly cited, directly quoted textual evidence from the passage to back up what you say about the literary elements and how they work together. Let topic sentences clarify the literary elements or logical organization of the discussion. Let summations link the paragraph back to your argument.

If discussing the argument of the passage, you may wish to note how rhetorical elements like pathos (appeals to emotion), logos (appeals to logic) and ethos (appeals from one’s own character or persona) are used in the passage to persuade the reader. Again, we’ll need direct evidence of these appeals from the text.

4) The Conclusion (1 paragraph)

The conclusion should enhance your thesis about the effect, theme, or argument of the passage and wrap up the essay in an interesting, insightful, and relevant way. You may wish to move to new insights about how the parts of the passage come together to create the whole, enhance your claims about how the passage works in the novel, or show how the passage’s insights or imagery are relevant to us now.


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