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My Ántonia

Willa Cather

Important Quotations Explained

Book V, Chapters I–III

Key Facts

1.
During that burning day when we were crossing Iowa, our talk kept returning to a central figure, a Bohemian girl whom we had both known long ago. More than any other person we remembered, this girl seemed to mean to us the country, the conditions, the whole adventure of our childhood.

This passage from the Introduction is the first the reader hears of Ántonia. The narrator of the Introduction, who grew up with Jim and Ántonia in Nebraska, describes a train ride taken with Jim many years later and details their conversation about Ántonia. They agreed that Ántonia, more than any other person, seemed to represent the world they had grown up in, to the point that speaking her name evokes “people and places” and “a quiet drama . . . in one’s brain.” This quotation is important because it establishes that Ántonia will both evoke and symbolize the vanished past of Jim’s childhood in Nebraska. It situates Ántonia as the central character in Jim’s story and explains Jim’s preoccupation with her by connecting her to his memories of the past. Finally, it establishes Jim’s character with its implication that Jim shares the unnamed narrator’s romantic inclination to dwell on the past and to allow people and places to take on an extraordinarily emotional, nostalgic significance.

2.
“I never know you was so brave, Jim,” she went on comfortingly. “You is just like big mans; you wait for him lift his head and then you go for him. Ain’t you feel scared a bit? Now we take that snake home and show everybody. Nobody ain’t seen in this kawn-tree so big snake like you kill.”

Ántonia speaks these lines in Book I, Chapter VII, praising Jim for having killed the rattlesnake. Jim is angry with Ántonia for failing to warn him about the snake (in a moment of panic, she screams out in her native language), and she quickly appeases him by gushing about his bravery and manliness. The quote captures Ántonia’s way of speaking in the early part of the novel, as she is learning English; it also represents a moment of transition in Jim’s relationship with her. Because she is older than Jim, Ántonia has had a tendency to treat him somewhat condescendingly, to Jim’s increasing frustration. After he proves his strength by killing the rattlesnake, she regards him with a new respect and never talks down to him again. She may never love Jim romantically, but at this moment, she clearly comes to regard him as an equal and as someone very special to her.

3.
“Why aren’t you always nice like this, Tony?”
“How nice?”
“Why, just like this; like yourself. Why do you all the time try to be like Ambrosch?”
She put her arms under her head and lay back, looking up at the sky. “If I live here, like you, that is different. Things will be easy for you. But they will be hard for us.”

This dialogue from Book I, Chapter XIX, occurs as Jim and Ántonia sit on the roof of the chicken house, watching the electrical storm. The two have grown apart somewhat following Mr. Shimerda’s suicide, as Jim has begun to attend school and Ántonia has been forced to spend her time working on the farm. Jim has found himself dismayed by Ántonia’s increasing coarseness and her pride in her own strength. As they sit watching the lightning storm, Jim feels his old intimacy returning, and he brings himself to ask Ántonia why she has changed. Ántonia understands Jim’s question and, because she is four years older, understands better than he does why their lives have begun to move in separate directions. Jim has opportunities and a bright future ahead of him, but for Ántonia, life now means simply helping her family get by. Ántonia acknowledges this unalterable circumstance with her customarily wise simplicity: “Things will be easy for you. But they will be hard for us.”

4.
Presently we saw a curious thing: There were no clouds, the sun was going down in a limpid, gold-washed sky. Just as the lower edge of the red disc rested on the high fields against the horizon, a great black figure suddenly appeared on the face of the sun. We sprang to our feet, straining our eyes toward it. In a moment we realized what it was. On some upland farm, a plough had been left standing in the field. The sun was sinking just behind it. Magnified across the distance by the horizontal light, it stood out against the sun, was exactly contained within the circle of the disk; the handles, the tongue, the share—black against the molten red. There it was, heroic in size, a picture writing on the sun.
   Even while we whispered about it, our vision disappeared; the ball dropped and dropped until the red tip went beneath the earth. The fields below us were dark, the sky was growing pale, and that forgotten plough had sunk back to its own littleness somewhere on the prairie.

This passage from Book II, Chapter XIV, recounts a sunset that Jim and Ántonia watch the summer after Jim graduates from high school. Gradually, the sun sinks behind a plow on the horizon, so the plow is superimposed on the red sun, “black against molten red.” The passage is an excellent example of Cather’s famous ability to evoke the landscape, creating a sensuous and poetic picture of a sunset on the Nebraska prairie. It also indicates the extraordinary psychological connection that Cather’s characters feel with their landscape, as the setting sun perfectly captures the quiet, somewhat bittersweet moment the characters are experiencing—they care for one another and have had a wonderful day together, but they are growing up and will soon go their separate ways.

The image of the plow superimposed on the sun also suggests a symbolic connection between human culture (the plow) and the nature (the sun). As the plow fills up the disk of the sun, the two coexist in perfect harmony, just as Jim recalls the idyllic connection between the natural landscape and the settlements in Nebraska. But as the sun sinks beneath the horizon, the plow dwindles to insignificance (“its own littleness”), suggesting that, in the relationship between humankind and environment, environment is dominant.

5.
She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true. I had not been mistaken. She was a battered woman now, not a lovely girl; but she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one’s breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in common things. She had only to stand in the orchard, to put her hand on a little crab tree and look up at the apples, to make you feel the goodness of planting and tending and harvesting at last. All the strong things of her heart came out in her body, that had been so tireless in serving generous emotions.
It was no wonder that her sons stood tall and straight. She was a rich mine of life, like the founders of early races.

This quotation, which concludes Book V, Chapter I, finds the adult Jim still contemplating the fascination he feels for Ántonia. Here he attributes her significance to her nurturing and generous presence, which suggests an enviable fullness of life. Ántonia evokes “immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true” because she is full of love and loyalty. As Jim portrays it, Ántonia is a “rich mine of life,” an inexhaustible source of love and will from which others draw strength and warmth. This portrayal explains why Ántonia lingers so prominently in the minds of so many people from Jim’s childhood (Jim, Lena, the narrator of the introduction). In her presence they have been filled with the love and strength that she exudes, and they will never forget the way it made them feel.

Apart from standing as the novel’s final important analysis of Ántonia, this quote is important because it reveals the psychological changes that the passage of time has wrought in Jim. Whereas before he avoided Ántonia for twenty years because he did not want to see the lovely girl he knew transformed into a hardened, overworked matron, he can now see beyond Ántonia’s age to her essential inner quality, which he finds can still “stop one’s breath.” This newfound connection to the present indicates that Jim can finally move beyond his dreamlike preoccupation with his nostalgia for his youth and contemplate Ántonia as more than a symbol of the past.

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Plot

by heggedunk, August 19, 2012

My Antonia is a modernist novel about the coming of age. Modernism is a style of writing used from the late 19th century till the 1930s. Modernism is a style that has no central plot instead it is more of a series of episodes. Please take note that most teachers ask for a specific plot where this novel doesn't really have one. My advice here would be to talk about the aging of the main characters or Jim's attraction to Antonia as a main plot. Also take note that both Jim Burden and Antonia can be considered Protagonists. I hope this helps as... Read more

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207 out of 238 people found this helpful

Regarding Mr.Shimerda

by STianF223, October 10, 2013

Mr. Shimerda CANNOT possibly have committed suicide for this is impossible. The scene has showed that Mr. Shimerda, laying on his side with the gun beside him. Otto's suspicion was that Mr. Shimerda was to lay on his side and put his long rifle in his mouth, using his big toe to pull the trigger, and kill himself. This would make sense, seeing how the scene was created and how there was a bullet hole in the wall until it takes up on account of two major problem, being the Shimerdas are HIGHLY religious and that there were pieces of his head,... Read more

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17 out of 41 people found this helpful

Another Harling

by rachelnolan, November 20, 2013

Actually, Sally is not the youngest Harling child, Nina is. They have 5 children.

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