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My Ántonia

Willa Cather

Introduction–Book I, Chapter VI

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

Introduction–Book I, Chapter VI, page 2

page 1 of 3

[T]his girl seemed to mean to us the country, the conditions, the whole adventure of our childhood.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Summary: Introduction

The novel opens with an unnamed narrator recounting a train trip through Iowa the previous summer with an old friend named Jim Burden, with whom the narrator grew up in a small Nebraska town. The narrator recalls talking with Jim about childhood on the prairie, and then notes that while they both live in New York, they don’t see each other much, since Jim is frequently away on business and since the narrator doesn’t really like Jim’s wife. The narrator resumes talking about the train trip with Jim through Iowa, adding that their discussion kept returning to a girl named Ántonia, with whom the narrator had lost touch but with whom Jim had renewed his friendship. The narrator recounts that Jim mentioned writing down his memories of Ántonia; the narrator expressed to Jim an interest in reading these writings. A few months later in New York, according to the narrator, Jim brought a portfolio of writings about Ántonia to show to the narrator. The narrator adds that Jim, wanting to title the work, wrote “Ántonia” across the front of the portfolio before frowning and scribbling “My” before “Ántonia.”

Summary: Chapter I

As the narrative begins, Jim is ten years old, newly orphaned and making the trip west from Virginia to stay with his grandparents in Black Hawk, Nebraska. He is traveling in the company of a farmhand named Jake Marpole, who is slightly older but who, like Jim, has limited experience of the wider world. Beyond Chicago, a friendly conductor informs Jim that an immigrant family, the Shimerdas, are also bound for Black Hawk. Among this Bohemian family, the only one who speaks any English is Ántonia, a young girl about Jim’s age.

Once the train reaches Black Hawk, Jim and Jake disembark, and one of the Burdens’ hired men, Otto Fuchs, meets them. Before departing for the Burden farm, Jim observes the Shimerdas preparing to set off as well. The emptiness of the Nebraska landscape at night overwhelms Jim as he travels in the jolting wagon. Eventually, he falls asleep on a bed of straw as the wagon travels into the night.

Summary: Chapter II

The next afternoon, at the farm, Jim’s grandmother, Mrs. Burden, awakens him and draws a bath for him. Afterward, Jim explores his new surroundings while Mrs. Burden prepares the evening meal. At supper, Jake discusses Virginia with the Burdens. Later, Otto tells stories of ponies and cattle to Jim, and the evening concludes with some family prayers. In the morning, Jim begins to take in the landscape around the farm. When he accompanies Mrs. Burden to the garden to pick potatoes for supper, he stays behind after her and sits quietly among the pumpkins.

Summary: Chapter III

On Sunday, the Burdens head out in the wagon to greet their new Bohemian neighbors. Mrs. Burden explains that someone took advantage of the Shimerdas when they decided to move to Black Hawk by overcharging for a farmhouse not suited to the harsh Nebraska winters. Mrs. Shimerda greets the Burdens upon arrival, and Mrs. Burden presents her with some loaves of bread. They exchange greetings, and, as the adults begin talking, Jim and Ántonia run off to play with her youngest sister, Yulka, trailing behind. As they wander through the grass, Jim teaches Ántonia a few English words. When the Burdens prepare to depart, Mr. Shimerda entreats Mrs. Burden to teach English to Ántonia.

Summary: Chapter IV

Later that same day, Jim takes his first of many long pony rides. As he rides, he reflects on Otto’s story that the sunflowers that fill the prairies sprang from seeds scattered by Mormons on their way to Utah. Jim rides twice a week to the post office, and he describes many other rides that he takes simply to wander or explore the local wildlife, with Ántonia accompanying him at times. Jim begins giving Ántonia regular English lessons, and she loves to help Mrs. Burden around the house.

More Help

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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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212 out of 243 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

1 Comments

20 out of 46 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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