It was no wonder that her sons stood tall and straight. She was a rich mine of life, like the founders of early races.

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Summary: Chapter I

Some twenty years later, Jim returns to Nebraska on his way home to New York from a business trip out west. His intention is to see Ántonia, of whom he has heard almost nothing in the intervening period except that she has married a fellow Bohemian named Cuzak and is raising a large family.

When his buggy arrives at the Cuzak farm, Jim is led up to the house by two young boys and welcomed into the kitchen by two older girls. As he prepares to sit down, Ántonia enters the room, but she fails to recognize him initially. Once she does, she is thrown into a rush of emotion and calls out to gather her children around her. Introductions are made, and Ántonia and Jim sit down in the kitchen to discuss old times and new times.

During their conversation, one of Ántonia’s boys comes into the house to mourn the death of his dog. Ántonia consoles him, and the Cuzaks take Jim on a tour of their new fruit cave. Afterward, Jim is taken through the farmhouse and then on to the orchard. Another long talk of times gone by ensues, and Ántonia invites Jim to stay the night with them. Jim expresses his wish to sleep in the haymow with her sons, and Ántonia goes off to prepare supper while Jim heads out to milk cows with the boys.

At supper the group crowds into the kitchen, and afterward everyone settles in the parlor for some musical entertainment by the Cuzak children. After the concert, Ántonia brings out a box of photographs, and the children gather around as their mother leads Jim through the pictures. Ántonia tells stories until eleven, when Jim and the boys retire to the barn. The boys’ giggles quickly give way to slumber, but Jim lays awake late into the night, thinking of Ántonia.

Summary: Chapter II

The next morning, Jim dresses in the barn and washes up by the windmill, entering the kitchen to find breakfast ready. In the afternoon, Cuzak returns with his oldest son and introduces him to Jim. Cuzak begins to describe the details of their trip into town, including a dance at which they encountered many of Ántonia’s Bohemian acquaintances. Back at the house, as Ántonia serves a supper of geese and apples, the talk turns to Black Hawk, and the story of the violent murder-suicide involving Wick Cutter and his wife.

After the meal, Cuzak and Jim take a walk into the orchard, and Cuzak recounts for Jim the details of his early life. Confessing a loneliness for his old haunts in Bohemia and Vienna, Cuzak explains that the warmth of Ántonia’s love and the energy of his large family has kept him free from despair.

Summary: Chapter III

The following day, after dinner, Jim leaves the Cuzaks. The whole family gathers to see him off as he departs, and Jim pulls away in the buggy as Ántonia waves her apron in farewell by the windmill.

In Black Hawk the next day, Jim is disappointed by the unfamiliar town, and is hard-pressed to occupy himself until the night express train arrives. Toward evening, Jim walks out beyond the outskirts of town and finds himself at home again. In his wanderings, he comes upon the first bit of the old road that leads out to the country farms. Although the track has largely been plowed under, Jim easily recognizes the way. He sits down by the overgrowth and watches the haystacks glowing in the sunlight.

Analysis: Book v, Chapters I–III

With twenty years gone by since their last encounter, it is no surprise that Ántonia fails to recognize Jim immediately when he arrives at her farm. Because of the interval in their acquaintance, it also follows that Jim’s description of Ántonia should be an odd mixture of the familiar and the strange. He refers to her in one breath as “this woman” and in the next insists that her eyes could be none other than her own.

As the two warm up to each other, the awkwardness of lost time fades into the background, and Ántonia and Jim begin to enjoy each other’s company in their old easy way. As Jim remembers, with the face-to-face encounter “the changes grew less apparent to me, her identity stronger.” Still, Ántonia does not expect to find Jim childless, and this fact throws him into stark contrast with Ántonia, a mother to a large family. The difference in their domestic status owes perhaps to the difference in their environments: Jim, as an urban white-collar worker, has less need to rear children than the poor, farm-bound Cuzaks, who need all the labor they can get.

Ántonia is as invested in her relationship with the landscape as ever, as demonstrated by her carefully cultivated orchard. She endows the trees around her with human qualities, declaring much as Jim does earlier in his childhood that she loves them “as if they were people” and explaining that as she cared for them in their first growth “they were on my mind like children.” Jim quickly reintegrates himself into such a landscape-oriented life in the countryside, and feels as he milks the cows with Ántonia’s sons that “everything was as it should be.”

In bringing out a box of photographs to display, Ántonia returns to a tangible resource that provokes a flood of memories. By educating her children in the tales of her past, she has made her past a part of her present, and the photographs help the memory of those old stories to live on. Memory lives largely on the strength of images, photographic or otherwise, and in recalling his feelings for Ántonia, Jim runs through a series of pictures from the past in his own head. At the same time, he finds that Ántonia “still had that something which fires the imagination,” and is every bit as moved by the images of his return visit as he has been all these years by the pictures from his childhood.

Ultimately, more than the photographs or the mental images, it is the surrounding prairie landscape that comes to serve as an icon of the childhood idyll that Ántonia and Jim earlier share. After parting once again from Ántonia, Jim finds resolution and strength in a walk among the familiar, silent places of his youth, illustrating how the past still has a tremendous power to comfort him.

Although the road leading out to the old farms is largely grown over, it still serves as a useful landmark to those aware of its presence. Likewise, the map of memory is a key to the present for those who have lived through the past. In returning to his roots, Jim is taken by “what a little circle man’s experience is” and resolves to renew his relationship with Ántonia and develop a bond with her family. Regardless of the missing years between them, Jim finds the key to a future with his childhood friend in the richness of what they hold in common—“the precious, the incommunicable past.” Jim meditates on this shared past once again as the landscape closest to his heart lies quietly beneath the darkness that surrounds him.