[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.