Lena Lingard and Tiny Soderball
Both of them immigrants and hired girls, Lena and Tiny are examples of early immigrants who go out into the world and are successful. Lena learns to be a dressmaker and later moves to San Francisco and has a thriving dress shop. On the other hand, Tiny leaves Black Hawk and starts a hotel in Seattle, later moving to the Klondike and becoming a wealthy woman. Both come into Jim's life, although Lena is definitely the one who influences him the most.
Lena is the sensuous Norwegian hired girl who, like Circe in Homer's Odyssey, distracts men and leaves them dreaming of pleasure. When Jim first meets her she has moved off the farm to Black Hawk and is learning dressmaking from Mrs. Thomas. Her reputation has preceded her: flirtatious and beautiful, she has driven Ole Benson to distraction so that his mentally deranged wife has come after Lena to kill her. Moving into Black Hawk, Lena becomes one of the hired girls who attends the dances and is quite popular with the men of the town. But she has no intention of marrying; she is satisfied to have a good time, make money, and never give her heart away.
In many ways, Lena is a foil for Ántonia. While Ántonia wants a home and family, Lena does not. Fastidious about her appearance, Lena is very fashionable and concerned about her looks, while Ántonia works in the fields and worries little about her clothes and appearance. While Ántonia is brought up strictly and loves to dance for the sake of having a good time and enjoying life, Lena is a woman of loose morals. Ántonia not only warns Mrs. Harling of this, but she also gets angry with Jim for spending so much time with Lena.
Before he leaves for the university, Jim spends a day having a picnic with many of his friends, but particularly Lena and Ántonia. During a conversation where Lena kisses Jim, Ántonia ends up scolding him because she sees he has a future and he does not want to tie himself down with a woman of Lena's caliber in Black Hawk. She, like her father, sees greater things for Jim. But Lena is quite a temptation. This influence is seen even more when she moves to Lincoln, where Jim is living, and once again begins a relationship with him.
They attend plays together and have breakfast together; soon it is obvious to Jim that many men, including Lena's landlord, are a little in love with her. The more Jim sees Lena, the more he has sensuous dreams of her and falls in love with her, but his heart keeps wishing the dreams were of Ántonia. Lena's role in Jim's life is to represent the delights of love without the responsibility. She is a beautiful, sensuous, and distracting woman who eventually causes Jim to have trouble with his studies. In fact, his mentor, Gaston Cleric, recognizes Jim's preoccupation and suggests eventually that Jim accompany him when he leaves for the East.
Lena's character is softened by the scene where she helps her brother buy a handkerchief for their mother. She misses her family after she moves to Black Hawk, and it is very apparent that Lena is devoted to her mother, sending her money and thinking about future help she can give her. Lena seems to be a warmhearted and doting daughter. As time goes by, she makes a great deal of money and does not attach herself lovingly to any man. As such, she is a contrast to Ántonia, a distraction to Jim, and an example of an immigrant girl who leaves the farm, hires out, and helps the family better itself.
Tiny Soderball is also a hired girl who moves to Black Hawk, hires out, and attends the dances and picnics. Like Lena, she enjoys life and dates many of the local boys but, because she is a hired girl, the young men of the town cannot offer her a future. They must marry within their own set. So she, like Lena, leaves town after working for Mrs. Gardener at the hotel. Although the townspeople criticize her for opening a hotel in Seattle, she does well there and moves on to the Klondike during the Gold Rush. There she also opens a hotel for miners and inherits a claim from a Swede who made a fortune. Unlike Lena, eventually the thrill of conquest fades for Tiny, and she becomes cynical about life. Like Lena, she is an example of the immigrant daughters who hired out, learned a trade, helped their family, and did well.