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“I never know you was so brave, Jim,”
she went on comfortingly. “You is just like big mans. . . .”
See Important Quotations Explained
“I never know you was so brave, Jim,”
she went on comfortingly. “You is just like big mans. . . .”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Ace your assignments with our guide to My Ántonia!