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Jim completes his academic program at Harvard in two years
and returns to Black Hawk for summer vacation before entering law school.
On the evening of his arrival, he is greeted at home by the Harlings.
After Jim catches up with his family and friends, Frances brings
up the subject of Ántonia. He knows that Larry Donovan never married
Ántonia and that he left her with a child. Jim thinks bitterly of
Ántonia’s lot, lamenting her misfortunes.
On a trip to the town photographer to arrange a portrait
of his grandparents, Jim notices a prominently placed picture of
a baby on the wall. The photographer informs Jim that it is a likeness
of Ántonia’s baby, and that Ambrosch will be coming in to the studio
to collect it over the weekend. On his way home from the photographer’s, Jim
stops at Mrs. Harling’s and mentions to her his wish to learn more
about Ántonia’s plight. She suggests that he go to visit Widow Steavens,
the tenant on the Burdens’ old farmland.
At the beginning of August, Jim takes a horse and cart
out to the countryside to visit Widow Steavens. She welcomes him
warmly and invites him to stay the night, promising to speak to
him of Ántonia after supper. That evening, Jim and the widow repair
to the old sitting room upstairs, and she begins her story.
In the weeks leading up to her wedding, Ántonia had been
hard at work, sewing various things for her new household and -anxiously
awaiting the approaching date. When Donovan had -written to her
soon after to inform her that his route as a train conductor had
changed and that they would have to live in Denver, Ántonia was
initially discouraged, but she quickly placed her doubts behind
her. When the time to depart came, Ambrosch helped Ántonia pack
up and drove her into Black Hawk to board the night train for Denver.
After receiving a couple of initial communications from
Denver confirming Ántonia’s safe arrival, the Shimerdas heard nothing from
her for several weeks. Then, suddenly, she reappeared at home one
day, unmarried and devastated by Donovan’s desertion of her and
subsequent running off to Mexico. Throughout the spring and summer,
Ántonia worked in the fields, shutting herself in among her family.
In the winter, she bore a child, to the surprise of her family, who
had not observed her pregnancy because of the loose and bulky clothing
that she had taken to wearing.
Widow Steavens concludes her story by telling Jim that
Ántonia’s baby is nearly two years old now, healthy and strong.
Jim retires for the evening into the room he slept in as a boy,
and he lays awake watching the moonlight and the windmill.
The next afternoon, Jim walks over to the Shimerdas’.
After Yulka shows him Ántonia’s baby, he walks out to the fields
to speak to Ántonia. They meet, clasp hands, and walk together to
the site of Mr. Shimerda’s grave. Jim tells her his plans for law
school and of his life in the East. Ántonia tells him of her resolution
to bring her daughter up into the world. As they walk across the
fields together at sunset, Jim feels a strong nostalgia for the
Nebraska landscape. At the edge of the field, Ántonia and Jim part
ways. Jim gives his promise to return, and Ántonia gives her promise
to remember him always. As Jim walks back to his old farmhouse alone
at dark, he has the sense of two young children running along beside
With Jim at Harvard, away from the constancy of his Nebraska childhood,
the narrative becomes even more piecemeal, and Jim’s memory begins
to skip around from story to story. Jim contrasts Ántonia’s lot
as a mother on the Nebraska prairie with that of her girlhood friends,
Lena Lingard and Tiny Soderball, who in time come to establish themselves
as women of fortune and position in San Francisco. The upward mobility
that Lena and Tiny enjoy is somewhat undermined by Jim’s lukewarm
description of it: he remarks of Lena that she “had got on in the
world” and of Tiny that “she was satisfied with her success, but
not elated.” For all of their victories, Lena and Tiny’s lack of
earnestness and enthusiasm does much to tarnish their achievements
in Jim’s eyes.
In contrast to these successful women in urban America
stands Ántonia, who has returned to the country after a thwarted
attempt to make a new life for herself in the big city. Like Jim,
Ántonia has a powerful sense of place that supersedes all other
considerations. But, unlike Jim, without the prospect of a career
in front of her, she is quickly sucked back into her natural, if
not native, environment.
Saddled with a child, deserted on the brink of marriage,
Ántonia retreats to the idylls of her past in the face of an unacceptable present.
Her labor is slow and intermittent, for, as she says to the Widow
Steavens, “[I]f I start to work, I look around and forget to go on.
It seems such a little while ago when Jim Burden and I was playing
all over this country.” To the romantic individual, a specific place
becomes invested with the quality of an emotion felt at a specific
time, and such a mind is slow to disassociate such remembrances
in a changing situation. Ántonia prefers to live in the past and
is fully aware of her denial of the reality of the present; despite the
fact that her father is long since dead, for instance, Ántonia tells Jim
that her father “is more real to me than almost anybody else.”
What brings both Ántonia and Jim to an acceptance of change
is their ability to come to terms with their own nostalgia. Rather
than denying or feeling guilt about their yearnings to recapture
and relive the old times, they indulge themselves by reminiscing.
Thus, while their exteriors may shift radically, their interiors
are constant and unchanging. This interior steadfastness gives them
repose in the face of an unstable environment. Upon returning home
for the summer before he enters law school, Jim sees the world changing,
but he doesn’t mind because what is truly important to him—the memories—remain
Ace your assignments with our guide to My Ántonia!