My Ántonia By Willa Cather Summary and Analysis Book I: The Shimerdas: Chapters XVII-XVIII

Summary

By spring, the Shimerdas are living in their new log house, which the neighbors helped build. When Jim rides over to see them, Mrs. Shimerda questions him about what the men are doing in the fields; she thinks they're withholding valuable farming secrets from her family.

Jim is amazed at the change in Ántonia over the last eight months; although she's just turned fifteen, she seems much older. She works like a man in the fields, and Jim feels that she has lost all her refinement. She is proud of her ability to work like a man and tells Jim that she can't start school when the new term begins because she's needed on the farm. Again she talks about how educated her father was and pleads with Jim not to forget him. She asks Jim to tell her about everything he is learning in school. Later, Jim regrets staying for supper because the family seems sordid and materialistic — Ántonia has become coarse; Mrs. Shimerda, suspicious and ungrateful; and Ambrosch, deceitful.

Jim and Jake ride over to the Shimerdas to retrieve a horse collar Ambrosch borrowed from Grandfather. Hesitant at first, Ambrosch finally goes to the stable and returns with a horse collar that looks as if it has been gnawed by rats. Jake loses his temper, which causes Ambrosch to try to kick him in the stomach. Jake punches him, and Ambrosch falls down, stunned. When they see Ántonia and her mother running toward them, clawing the air, they mount their horses and ride away. On Grandfather Burden's advice, Jake goes into town, reports the incident to the justice of the peace, and pays his fine so that the Shimerdas' can't have Jake arrested. Relations between the two families become strained. Grandfather, however, remains neutral, continuing to help the Shimerdas, and Ántonia and Ambrosch continue to treat him with respect.

One day, Grandfather decides to heal the rift and rides over with Jim to ask Ántonia to help Grandmother in the kitchen during the harvesting of the small grain crops. Mrs. Shimerda thinks he's coming to take back the cow that hasn't been completely paid for, but Grandfather tells her she can keep the cow and pay no more. The friendship is repaired, although Mrs. Shimerda remains boastful and taunting, even when she brings Jake a pair of hand-knitted socks as a peace offering.

Analysis

Cather emphasizes Ántonia's kinship with the earth — "Her neck came up strongly out of her shoulders, like the bole of a tree out of the turf" — in strong, masculine, unfeminine language. Ántonia's desire to prove to her mother that she can work as well as Ambrosch leads her to compete with the men in plowing and to pick up masculine traits that overshadow her femininity. Only Grandfather Burden is not worried that hard work will permanently harm Ántonia.

The skirmish between Jake and Ambrosch, as well as the resulting tension between the two families, bring out some new character revelations. Although Ántonia has been portrayed in a positive way, thus far, we now see her with her mother, running toward the two men, plunging through the water without even lifting her skirts, "screaming and clawing the air." Ántonia now has such a strong sense of family bonding that, despite Ambrosch's shortcomings, she is fiercely loyal to him. We wonder if she would have reacted like a wild animal if Mr. Shimerda were still alive. Another revelation occurs when Mrs. Shimerda, normally vindictive and greedy, is uncharacteristically emotional and effusively grateful — kissing Grandfather's hand when he tells her she doesn't owe any more money on the cow and giving Jake a pair of socks she's knitted. It is difficult, however, for Mrs. Shimerda to resist making a final verbal jab about the fight, and Jake, in spite of his quick temper, allows her the last word.

Glossary

draw a shallow gully or ravine, as one that water drains into or through.

sod corn corn grown in a field of freshly broken sod.

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As a child, Antonia faced many difficulties. Which of the following was not one of them?




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