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My Ántonia

Willa Cather

Book II, Chapters VIII–XV

Book II, Chapters I–VII

Book III, Chapters I–IV

[The plow] stood out against the sun . . . the handles, the tongue, the share—black against the molten red. There it was, heroic in size, a picture writing on the sun.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Summary: Chapter VIII

Finally, the long winter gives way to spring, and Ántonia, Jim, and the Harling children spend their days in the garden and at play among the trees. In June, the Vannis, an Italian family, arrive with a dancing pavilion and begin giving lessons. The pavilion quickly becomes a center of town life, especially on Saturday nights, when the dancing carries on until midnight.

Summary: Chapter IX

Jim claims that all the socially respectable boys are secretly attracted to the country girls who came to Black Hawk as hired girls. But because of the town’s extremely rigid social hierarchy, none of the town boys feels comfortable dating a hired girl. For his part, Jim finds the hired girls more interesting and worthwhile than the townsfolk, and he begins to spend time with them, to the general disapproval of the community.

Summary: Chapter X

Over time, Ántonia begins to draw notice at the pavilion, and thoughts of dancing soon preoccupy her waking hours. Trouble arises when an engaged boy attempts to kiss Ántonia on the Harlings’ back porch. Although Ántonia manages to fight him off, Mr. Harling presents her with an ultimatum: she must quit dancing or look for work elsewhere. Indignant, Ántonia decides to take her chances on her own and announces her plan to find work with Wick Cutter, the local moneylender. Distraught, Mrs. Harling tells Ántonia that she cannot speak to her if she works for the Cutters. Ántonia insists on keeping her independence and leaving the Harlings.

Summary: Chapter XI

Jim describes the Cutters as a detestable Black Hawk couple, generally loathed by the populace: Wick Cutter is a devious moneylender who makes his money by manipulating farmers into accepting unwise loans, and Mrs. Cutter is a hideous shrew. The Cutters do not even get along with each other, and their epic arguments are legendary throughout the town.

Summary: Chapter XII

Once set up at the Cutters, Ántonia spends even more time and energy on her new social life. She sews her own outfits and parades around town with Lena and a number of the other hired girls. Now a senior in high school, Jim sometimes travels about with them. After the Vannis leave town, a group called the Owl Club begins to stage dances in the Masonic Hall each Tuesday, but Jim refuses to join. Envious of the older girls, Jim begins to grow restless at the thought of being cooped up in school, and so he visits a local saloon. When Jim’s reputation is brought into question, he is forced to look elsewhere for diversion, but he quickly finds that very few diversions are to be found in Black Hawk.

Eager to find an alternative, Jim resolves to attend the Saturday night dances at the Firemen’s Hall, sneaking out of the house after his grandparents have fallen asleep. One evening, after a night of dancing, Jim walks Ántonia back to the Cutters. When he asks for a kiss and goes a little farther than Ántonia expects, she scolds him for his brazenness. Jim, pleased at her show of virtue, walks home with his heart full of her.

Summary: Chapter XIII

A short time later, Jim notices that his grandmother has been crying. She has learned of his secret journeys to the Firemen’s Hall dances, and she is ashamed of his deceitfulness. In an attempt to atone for his actions, Jim swears off the dances, but he finds himself lonely again as a result.

At his high school commencement, Jim gives an oration that the crowd receives wonderfully. Afterward, Ántonia breathlessly congratulates him and is moved to tears when he declares that he dedicated the oration to her father. Jim is thrilled with his success.

Summary: Chapter XIV

During the summer, Jim commits himself to a rigorous study schedule in preparation for his upcoming university studies. His one -holiday comes in July, when he arranges to meet a party of girls, including Ántonia and Lena, at the river. As he approaches, he spots Ántonia sitting alone by a stream and notices she has been crying. When Jim asks her why she is sad, she confesses to him her pangs of homesickness for the old country and for her father. Later in the day, Ántonia and Jim rejoin the rest of the girls, and they spend the afternoon playing games and talking together until sunset.

Summary: Chapter XV

Left alone to housesit for the Cutters in late August, Ántonia has an uneasy feeling about spending the night by herself. Jim agrees to sleep there in her stead and comes back to the Burdens each morning for breakfast. On his third night in the house, he is roused by a noise, but quickly falls back asleep. A short while later, he wakes to the noise of someone in the same room and comes face to face with Cutter, who was expecting to find Ántonia in the room. Cutter has used the trip as an elaborate scheme to abandon his wife and either seduce or rape Ántonia. He had told Ántonia that he left his valuables under her bed and that she must not leave them unattended at night. A scuffle ensues, and Jim manages to escape Cutter by leaping out of the window and running through the dark town in his nightshirt. He eventually makes his way home, only to find that he has suffered several severe bruises and cuts.

Jim holes up in his room to recover, and Mrs. Burden accompanies Ántonia to the Cutters to pack her trunk. They find the house in utter disarray, and, as they are gathering up the torn garments, Mrs. Cutter arrives at the front door. After doing her best to calm Mrs. Cutter down, Mrs. Burden listens in amazement as Mrs. Cutter relates the elaborate ruse that her husband concocted: he put her on the wrong train while he slipped back to Black Hawk in his failed scheme to have his way with Ántonia.

Analysis: Book II, Chapters VIII–XV

Frances Harling, the no-nonsense businesswoman of the novel, perfectly describes the core of Jim’s affliction. Criticizing Jim over his affections for the hired girls, Frances says, “The problem with you, Jim, is that you’re romantic.” Frances’s objection to Jim’s social persona lies both in his withdrawal from society and in the glorified sense of glamour that he bestows upon Ántonia, Lena, and the rest of their kind. Frances, who speaks for the more respectable realms of Black Hawk society, represents a class of people whom Jim despises. Jim contrasts the staid propriety of a house full of “hand-painted china that must not be used” with the carefree charms of the free spirits he deems “my country girls.”

The dancing pavilion brings the difference between the sheltered American daughters and the immigrant working girls into relief. As Jim observes, the presence of the dance hall upsets the established social order. With little to lose, the displaced immigrant girls from Bohemia, Denmark, and Norway take advantage of their working-class freedom to gain a foothold among the young men of Black Hawk, while the more respectable girls of established families are left to hang back in the shadows.

From the distanced perspective of a man writing a memoir, Jim can look back on this curious social order and analyze it as the natural evolution of the American immigrant experience. The same girls who were initially held back by barriers of language and wealth applied the strength of character acquired through hardship in order to better their lot in life. As a result, the servant girls of Jim’s youth become the property-owning mistresses of his adulthood.

That such radical changes are afoot is clear from the pressing march of time. Jim himself is very conscious of the fleetingness of existence, soliloquizing that “when boys and girls are growing up, life can’t stand still, not even in the quietest of country towns; and they have to grow up, whether they will or no.” Although Jim clearly understands the inevitability of growing up, we get the sense that his romantic side is loath to do so.

Jim grows to dislike the stillness of Black Hawk, however, shuffling aimlessly as he does in his senior year among the “malcontent” in their “flimsy shelters.” But at the same time, he longs to recapture the innocence and purity of his childhood affection for the domestic and the mundane, as shown when he hangs a May basket for young Nina Harling, taking a “melancholy pleasure” in the action.

As Book II comes to an end, the feeling that the characters are moving out of childhood and into the world of adulthood is nearly complete. The story’s increasing emphasis on sexuality—including Cutter’s bizarre attempt to sleep with Ántonia—reflects this transition. Jim’s reluctance to grow up manifests itself most strongly in his inability to reconcile his emotional and sexual urges. When he attempts to kiss Ántonia in the same way that he has kissed Lena, she curtly but politely rebuffs him; he does not protest, but is pleased by her modesty. Although he is “not half as fond” of Lena as he is of Ántonia, it is Lena that he dreams of passionately embracing, and though he wishes it were Ántonia in her stead, he is never able to dream about her in the same way.

Ántonia, too, harbors nostalgia for a purer, more childlike past. She arranges for Jim to meet her and her friends at the river, in a last attempt to re-create old times. While her tears are ostensibly shed in longing for a lost Bohemia, she perhaps feels another grief—equally strong but subconscious—for the loss of her and Jim’s shared childhood in the Nebraska countryside.

Once again, Cather reverts to the majesty of the landscape to provide a visual analogue for the nostalgia and sense of loss that her characters feel. As Jim and the girls continue to reminisce late into the afternoon, a plow emerges against the red disk of the setting sun, heroic in its loneliness, a symbol for the romantic imagination. But, inevitably, like the romantic imagination itself, this heroic image can enjoy only a fleeting moment of distorted importance. As the sun slowly sinks, the plow is returned “back to its own littleness” beneath the darkening sky, symbolizing how helpless humankind is in the face of indomitable forces of the universe such as time.

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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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208 out of 239 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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18 out of 43 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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