Book I, Chapters XIV–XIX
If I live here, like you, that is different. Things will be easy for you. But they will be hard for us.
Summary: Chapter XIV
On the second morning of the blizzard, Jim wakes to a great commotion. When he arrives in the kitchen, his grandfather informs him that Mr. Shimerda is dead. With Ambrosch Shimerda curled up on a nearby bench, the Burdens quietly discuss the apparent suicide as they eat breakfast. Jake describes Krajiek’s strange behavior around the body and notes that Krajiek’s axe fits the gash in Mr. Shimerda’s face. Otto Fuchs and Mrs. Burden talk him out of his suspicions. After the meal, Otto sets out to summon the priest and the coroner from Black Hawk, and the others clear the road for the trip to the Shimerdas. Jim stays behind and finds himself alone. After completing a few chores, he settles down to contemplate Mr. Shimerda’s death. At dusk, the wagon returns, and Jake describes the scene at the Shimerdas’ to Jim.
Summary: Chapter XV
The next day, Otto returns from Black Hawk with a young Bohemian named Anton Jelinek. At dinner, Jelinek bemoans the fact that no priest could be found to put Mr. Shimerda to rest. Afterward, Jelinek goes out to clear a road to the Shimerdas’ wide enough for a wagon, and Otto begins to construct a coffin. Later in the afternoon, a number of other locals stop at the Burdens’ to ask after the Shimerdas and discuss the tragedy. The coroner refrains from issuing a warrant for Krajiek at Mr. Burden’s urging. The postmaster alerts the Burdens that none of the graveyards in the area will accept Mr. Shimerda because he killed himself, and Mrs. Burden lashes out in bitterness at this unfairness. With no graveyard to turn to, the Shimerdas decide that they will bury Mr. Shimerda on the corner of their homestead.
Summary: Chapter XVI
After lying dead in the barn for four days, Mr. Shimerda is finally buried on his own land. Despite the beginnings of another ominous snowfall, rural neighbors come from miles around to attend the burial. At Mrs. Shimerda’s request, Mr. Burden says a prayer in English for Mr. Shimerda, and afterward Otto leads the assembled group in a hymn.
Summary: Chapter XVII
With the coming of spring, the neighbors help the Shimerdas to build a new log house on their property, and they eventually acquire a new windmill and some livestock. One day, after giving an English lesson to Yulka, Jim asks Ántonia if she would like to attend the upcoming term at the schoolhouse. Ántonia proudly refuses, saying that she is kept too busy by farm work, but her tears of sorrow reveal her true feelings on the matter. Jim stays at the Shimerdas’ for supper, but he is offended by their ingratitude over neighborly charity and by Ántonia’s coarse manners.
Summary: Chapter XVIII
Once school starts, Jim sees less and less of Ántonia, and soon tension erupts between them. When Jake and Jim ride over to the Shimerdas’ to collect a loaned horse collar, Ambrosch first denies borrowing it, then returns with a badly damaged collar he rudely gives over to them. After a heated exchange, Jake grabs Ambrosch, who kicks him in the stomach. Jake then pounds Ambrosch on the head. Jake and Jim quickly pull away from the Shimerdas’, as Mrs. Shimerda yells after them about sending for the authorities.
When Mr. Burden learns of the incident, he sends Jake into town with a ten-dollar bill to pay the assault fine. For the next few weeks, the Shimerdas are proud and aloof when meeting the Burdens in passing, although they maintain their respect for Mr. Burden. Finally Mr. Burden arranges a reconciliation by hiring Ambrosch to help with his wheat threshing and offering Ántonia a job to help Mrs. Burden in the kitchen. In addition, he forgives Mrs. Shimerda her debt on the milk cow she bought from him. In an effort to show her own forgiveness, Mrs. Shimerda knits Jake a pair of socks.
Summary: Chapter XIX
In high summer, Ántonia and Jim spend more time together, walking to the garden each morning to collect vegetables for dinner. One night, during an electric storm in a light rain, Ántonia and Jim climb onto the roof of the chicken house to stare at the sky until they are called down for supper. Ántonia tells Jim that things will be easy for him but hard for her family.
Analysis: Book I, Chapters XIV–XIX
Throughout the novel, Jim shows an extraordinary capacity to identify with others, and, upon hearing of Mr. Shimerda’s apparent suicide, he immediately senses that “it was homesickness that had killed Mr. Shimerda.” As Jim imagines the homeward route of Mr. Shimerda’s released spirit through Chicago and Virginia, two way stations on his own journey to Nebraska, he identifies with the sense of loss that he believes caused Mr. Shimerda such disenchantment. In meditating on Mr. Shimerda’s life, Jim comes to feel as though his memories almost “might have been Mr. Shimerda’s memories.”
Jim’s most concentrated struggle with cultural difference occurs over the matter of religion. As Jake describes Ambrosch’s view that his father has been sent to purgatory as a result of his suicide, Jim rails against what is to him an incomprehensible stance, saying, “I almost know it isn’t true.” But the “almost” indicates Jim’s hesitation. Because he himself holds a belief that is mystical (his belief in the presence of Mr. Shimerda’s soul), Jim is unable to rule out the seemingly unsupportable beliefs of others. As he attempts to sleep that night, Jim is crushingly preoccupied with this unfamiliar idea of purgatory, suggesting that his confrontation with other ways of thinking has left him uncomfortable. Although Jim listens carefully to Anton Jelinek’s story of religious conviction and finds it “impossible not to admire his frank, manly faith,” there is clearly a divide between the Bohemians’ more instinctual faith and Jim’s more philosophical spirituality.
The Nebraska prairie, as an amalgam of various immigrant groups, is a testing ground for collisions between such differing religious viewpoints. Mr. Shimerda’s suicide proves to be a test case for the solidarity of the farming community. When the old-guard religions universally refuse to have a suicide buried in their graveyards, the Shimerdas are forced to come up with an alternative. In dismis-sing the conservative standards of the foreign churches, Mrs. Burden proposes “an American graveyard that will be more liberal minded.” This American graveyard is a burial plot on the family land, accompanied by a makeshift funeral and an improvised service conducted by the farming community. For all of its unorthodoxy, the beauty of this service captures Jim’s imagination, as he remarks on his affection for “the dim superstition” of the event and the “propitiatory intent” of the grave that remains behind it.
With Mr. Shimerda departed, the different paths that await Ántonia and Jim begin to emerge. Structurally, this chapter concludes Book I, the main phase of Jim and Ántonia’s relationship in the rural countryside. The directions that they will take in life are already becoming visible, and they begin to grow apart. Thrown into a more laborious role on the farm, Ántonia quickly loses her feminine softness, and Jim’s entry into school sets him off on an altogether separate road. Interestingly, in spite of, or perhaps because of, his more formal education, Jim fails to recognize the reality of this difference. When he says to Ántonia that he wishes she could always be “nice” rather than rough and tumble, she explains that “things will be easy for you. But they will be hard for us.” Here, for the first time, Cather clearly presents the dichotomy between Ántonia’s role as a rural worker and Jim’s role as a leisured thinker—a dichotomy that she explores throughout the remainder of the novel.
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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