“I never know you was so brave, Jim,” she went on comfortingly. “You is just like big mans. . . .”

See Important Quotations Explained

Summary: Chapter VII

One day, Ántonia and Jim ride Jim’s pony to Peter’s house to borrow a spade for Ambrosch, her older brother. On the way home, they stop to examine a group of prairie-dog holes. Suddenly, Ántonia spots an enormous snake and lets out a scream, which causes the snake to coil in their direction. She points at the snake and shouts at Jim in her native Bohemian. Jim turns around and sees the huge snake. He swiftly gathers his wits and uses the spade to bludgeon the snake several times to kill it. Jim gets angry at Ántonia for not warning him in English about the presence of the snake, but her admiration for his bravery quickly wins him over. They resolve to bring the dead snake home to show off Jim’s victory. The size of the snake impresses Jim’s elders, and Ántonia derives great pleasure from relating the story to all interested listeners.

Summary: Chapter VIII

Meanwhile, the Russians, Peter and Pavel, have fallen upon hard times. Peter finds himself deeply in debt to a Black Hawk moneylender named Wick Cutter, and Pavel seriously injures himself in a fall. When Peter arrives at the Burdens’ to ask the Shimerdas, who are visiting, for help, Jim decides to accompany Ántonia and her father to the Russians’ farm. They arrive after nightfall and find Pavel lying incapacitated. Frantic preoccupation with wolves punctuates his illness—a fascination whose origins Ántonia explains to Jim on the ride home: when Pavel and Peter were living in Russia, they attended a winter wedding party between a mutual friend and a girl from a neighboring town. On the ride home from the wedding, a pack of wolves attacked the wedding party in their sledges. Everyone perished, with the exception of Pavel and Peter, who were driving the sledge that carried the newly married couple; in a frantic effort to lighten that sledge’s load to increase its speed, Pavel had thrown the couple to the wolves. The shame of this incident drove Pavel and Peter from their hometown and later from Russia.

The memory of the horror of that evening plagues both Pavel and Peter. Pavel dies mere days after Ántonia and Jim’s visit, and, with Pavel gone, Peter sells off everything and leaves America. Mr. Shimerda thus quickly loses two of the only friends he had made in the country, and Pavel’s story continues to fascinate Ántonia and Jim long after Pavel’s death.

Summary: Chapter IX

At the first snowfall, Otto Fuchs builds a sleigh for Jim to drive. After a test run, Jim sets out to give Ántonia and Yulka a ride. The girls are unprepared for the cold weather, and Jim gives them some of his clothing to help them keep warm. As a result, he himself is vulnerable to the cold, and ends up bedridden for two weeks with quinsy, a severe tonsil disease.

Summary: Chapter X

Jim’s next encounter with Ántonia occurs when Mrs. Burden resolves to bring a gift of a rooster and foodstuffs to the Shimerdas. As they approach the Shimerda farm, Jim spots Ántonia working at the water pump, but she quickly flees back to the house. When Mrs. Shimerda answers the Burdens’ call, she is in tears. The Shimerdas have very little food stored up for the winter, and much of what they do have is rotting. When Jake brings in the gift basket of food, Mrs. Shimerda only cries harder. Mr. Shimerda explains that they were not beggars in Bohemia, but that several unexpected turns in -America have left them with very little money. While Mrs. Burden reassures the Shimerdas, Jim plays with Yulka’s kitten. As the Burdens rise to leave, Mrs. Shimerda presents a small gift package of food to Mrs. Burden. On the ride home, Jake and Mrs. Burden -discuss the Shimerdas’ plight. Later, while preparing supper, Mrs. Burden discards the gift package of food. Though he is unsure of what the food is, Jim breaks off a small piece and eats it anyway.

Summary: Chapter XI

During the week before Christmas, with Jake preparing to go into town to do the Burdens’ Christmas shopping, a heavy snow begins to fall. Mr. Burden decides that the roads are unfit for travel, and the family sets about to create homemade Christmas presents. Jim makes a pair of picture books for Ántonia and Yulka, and Mrs. Burden bakes gingerbread cookies. After delivering an offering to the Shimerdas, Jake brings back a small cedar tree, which the Burdens decorate on Christmas Eve.

Summary: Chapter XII

On Christmas morning, Mr. Burden leads the family in prayer, and afterward they sit down to a meal of waffles and sausage. Jake mentions that the Shimerdas were very happy to receive gifts from the Burdens. In the afternoon, Mr. Shimerda arrives to thank the Burdens for all of their kindnesses. They persuade him to stay for supper, and he stays until well after dark.

Summary: Chapter XIII

By New Year’s Day, a thaw has reduced the snow to slush. Soon after, when Mrs. Shimerda and Ántonia visit the Burdens, Ántonia and Jim have a fierce argument about the Shimerdas’ situation and attitude. The mild weather continues until late January, when, on Jim’s eleventh birthday, a violent snowstorm blankets the countryside and brings work on the farm to a grinding halt.

Analysis: Book I, Chapters VII–XIII

My Ántonia proposes much bolder theories about gender than most other novels of its time. Not only does Cather, a female author, write in the first-person voice of a male narrator, Jim, but Jim himself chooses to spend very little time with the Shimerda boys. Instead, he focuses his attention almost exclusively on Ántonia and Yulka. Even in the face of a language barrier, a young frontier boy would be more likely to spend more time with his male peers than with his female peers. But Jim’s sensitive nature and Ántonia’s tomboyish eagerness for adventure make the two natural companions. If the characters of a novel can be thought of as aspects of their creator’s persona, Ántonia and Jim are certainly complementary components of Cather. While growing up, Cather did not fit within traditional gender boundaries; she cut her hair short and called herself William. Throughout her life, furthermore, she shunned heterosexual -relationships and socially accepted gender norms. Likewise, the relationship between Ántonia and Jim breaks—or rather, ignores—the conventions of gender relations.

Jim reveals an especially strong desire to identify with his fellow human beings across all kinds of boundaries and differences. This urge to connect is tied closely to Jim’s mystical belief that a divine presence is controlling his fate. As he rides in the back of a horse-drawn wagon, staring up at the stars, he speaks on behalf of Ántonia when he asserts that “though we had come from such different parts of the world, in both of us there was some dusky superstition that those shining groups have their influence on what is and what is not to be.” Although Jim feels increasingly alienated from the world, he is comforted by the discovery that Ántonia, despite coming from a culture entirely different from his own, shares his belief about the stars and fate.

Although Jim is not as displaced as the Bohemians or the Russians, he too is an immigrant of sorts, and his desire to identify with others leads him to adapt the immigrant experience to his own life. After he hears Pavel’s story of the wolves, for instance, Jim repeatedly imagines himself as a sledge driver in flight, “dashing through a country that looked something like Nebraska and something like Virginia.” When he makes homemade picture books for Ántonia and Yulka at Christmas, he uses resources that he brought from Virginia, which he refers to as “my ‘old country.’ ”

This desire for shared experience also manifests itself in Jim’s efforts to bring the legends and stories of the Bible closer to his own experience. As Mr. Burden reads from the Book of Matthew on Christmas morning, the story of Jesus’ birth strikes Jim as seeming like “something that had happened lately, and near at hand.”

Mr. Shimerda’s visit to the Burdens on Christmas Day puts a slight ripple in the harmony that Jim feels. Jim’s sense of universality cannot override the practical gap in observance existing between different religions. While the Shimerdas are from Bohemia (a western region of the Czech Republic, a country with a substantial Catholic population) and of Catholic heritage, the Burdens are Protes-tant. Mr. Shimerda emphasizes this difference by kneeling in front of the Burdens’ Christmas tree, transforming it from a symbolic decoration into an explicitly religious icon. While the Burdens may not identify, or even agree, with this type of religious observance, Mr. Burden decides to tolerate it quietly. “The prayers of all good people are good,” he remarks as Mr. Shimerda vanishes into the Christmas night. It is a noble sentiment, but Cather is ambiguous about whether Mr. Burden speaks sincerely.

Jim himself reveals an uncharacteristic lack of sympathy in the argument he has with Ántonia shortly after New Year’s Day, which may be attributed to his immaturity as a ten-year-old boy. While he retells the story in an adult voice, his words and actions in the story are those of his ten-year-old self. His inability to appreciate the complexity of the Shimerdas’ situation in a new country is not a matter of insensitivity to their plight or scorn of foreigners, but rather a lack of adult perspective. While he tells Ántonia that “people who don’t like this country ought to stay at home,” it is clear from the attention and energy he pours into his relationship with Ántonia that her departure from Nebraska is the last thing he would want.

Ántonia and Jim’s argument, as an unexpected turn in an otherwise pleasant narrative, suggests greater tensions to come. Additionally, Cather employs a change in the weather to foreshadow trouble. An unusually mild beginning to the year gives way to a violent blizzard. At this point, Cather uses an elegant metaphor of snowbound animals to represent the struggling immigrant family. The high drifts leave the guinea hens “resentful of their captivity,” leading them to screech and attempt to poke their way out of the snow walls that have been built up around them. The Shimerdas, in their economic hardship, face a similar challenge in the unfamiliar land that they now inhabit.