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Teacher's Guide [imagemap with 9 links]

Before Viewing: Questions and Activities

  • The Song of the Lark is Willa Cather's most autobiographical and revealing book; the story of Thea Kronborg parallels Cather's own emotional and intellectual development. Learn more about Cather by visiting the biography of Willa Cather and A Cather Timeline as well as some of the other Web sites about her in the Resources and Links and Bibliography sections. Then choose three events or people in her life up until 1915 (the year the novel was published) that seem to have played a major role in her genesis as a writer. As you view the film, look for examples of their influence.

  • Look at photographs and read descriptions of Red Cloud, Nebraska in the early 1900's at the Library of Congress's American Memory collection, The Northern Great Plains: 1880-1920. This is where Cather was raised and is also the place on which she based the town of Moonstone in her novel. What do you imagine your life would be like if you were an artistically talented young girl in this time and place? Write a diary entry as if you are such a young girl, and describe your daily life, thoughts, feelings, and dreams. You may also want to visit Prairie Settlement, a collection of Solomon Butcher's photographs of Nebraska in the same era. (After you have seen the film, compare what you wrote to the way in which the film depicts Thea's life.)

  • Read the first two chapters of the novel The Song of the Lark and record your first impressions of Thea. What lines from these chapters are especially significant in showing who she is? Whom would you cast to play her in the film version? Why? (After you have seen the film you may want to read the about the actors and the roles they played by visiting Cast and Credits.)

  • Make a list of other novels, films, plays, or memoirs that you know about that are also Bildungsromans (the story of a young person as he or she develops psychologically, morally, and intellectually). What do these kinds of stories often have in common? What predictions can you make about The Song of the Lark if you know that it is part of this same genre?

  • The Song of the Lark tells Thea's story as she develops into a mature artist. Whom do you consider a great artist? What qualities do you believe make a true artist, in any medium? Choose one such artist, living or dead, and research this person's life to discover how much his or her early experience affected the work he or she created. Do you think artists are different from other people from early childhood on? How?

  • When Thea finally realizes her artistic "gift" is her singing, she reflects in the novel:

    Her voice, more than any other part of her, had to do with that confidence, that sense of wholeness and inner well-being that she had felt at moments ever since she could remember.... She took it for granted that some day, when she was older, she would know a great deal more about [this feeling]. It was as if she had an appointment to meet the rest of herself sometime, somewhere.
    Have you ever felt like this about some talent or skill you have? How was your experience similar to this description? What is meant by the phrase "the artist's voice"? What artist can you think of whose "voice," whether literal or figurative, is particularly original and striking to you? Why?

  • Read the essay Willa and the Diva to learn about how Cather based The Song of the Lark partly on her own experience, and partly on the life story of Olive Fremstad, a great opera diva and friend of Cather's. What do you know about opera already? What do you want to find out? You may want to read Opera in America to begin your research. Listen as your teacher plays an aria such as the one Thea sings at the end of the film from the opera Rusalka by Antonin Dvorak and write your impressions of this piece as you listen.

Teacher's Guide:
Teaching The Song of the Lark | Using This Web Site | Willa and the Diva

Essays + Interviews | Novel to Film | A Cather Timeline
Opera in America | Prairie Settlement | Cast + Credits
Links and Bibliography | Teacher's Guide | The Forum

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