My Ántonia By Willa Cather Summary and Analysis Book V: Cuzak's Boys: Chapters I-III

Summary

Twenty years pass. Jim has had little contact with Ántonia. While traveling through Europe, he sent her pictures from Bohemia, and she wrote and thanked him, telling him the names and ages of her children. He heard from Tiny that Ántonia's husband "was not a man of much force, and she had had a hard life." Jim has been afraid to see Ántonia again because he wants to remember her as she was — he doesn't want to be disappointed. Finally, Lena persuades him to go see Ántonia.

When Jim arrives by open buggy at the Cuzak farm, Ántonia's husband and eldest son are away. At first Ántonia doesn't recognize Jim. He looks at her and sees that she is "battered but not diminished"; her identity is intact. Ántonia is delighted when she recognizes him, then becomes suddenly fearful, asking if someone has died. Jim reassures her that he didn't come for a funeral. She introduces him to her children, and then she and Jim walk in the orchard and talk about the days when they were young.

After supper, Leo and Yulka furnish music. Leo, who has inherited Mr. Shimerda's violin, plays the instrument very well for a self-taught boy. Yulka plays the organ, but not quite as well as Leo plays the violin. Ántonia brings out a box of photographs, and as they look at the photos, Jim senses a harmony among the members of the family. He finds that Ántonia's children know all about the people whom she and Jim grew up with.

At bedtime, Jim chooses to sleep in the haymow with two of the boys. He lies awake for a long time, thinking about how Ántonia turned out, how her fire did not diminish.

The next day, Ántonia's husband and son Rudolph return. Jim learns that long ago Cuzak came to Nebraska to visit his cousin, Anton Jelinek, and to consider settling here. He noticed Ántonia, realized that she was exactly the kind of girl he'd always hoped to meet, and they were married. Rudolph tells the story of how Wick Cutter killed his wife, then himself, making sure that he survived her long enough so that her family, whom he detested, wouldn't inherit his money.

Cuzak was born and raised in a Bohemian city, and at first he was very lonely on the plains. Because of Ántonia's strength, however, and because she was able to help in the fields, he stayed. He would like to visit the Old Country again, someday when the boys are old enough to take care of the farm themselves, but he has no regrets about putting down roots here.

Jim says good-bye to the Cuzak family and promises to go hunting with Ambrosch and Rudolph the following summer. His mind is full of trips he plans to take with the boys, and, even after they are grown up, he wants to "tramp along a few miles of lighted streets with Cuzak himself."

Jim takes the train to Black Hawk, and, walking down its streets, he realizes that most of his old friends have either died or moved away. He becomes bored and finally ends up wandering around a nearby pasture, where he stumbles upon the road that he and Ántonia followed when they arrived on the prairie thirty years ago. He remembers the feeling of isolation that he had that night. Now, as he once again walks along the familiar road, he has "the sense of coming home to myself, and of having found out what a little circle man's experience is." This road launched him and Ántonia on a journey, their paths parted, and now it has brought them together again. He feels at peace at last because "whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past."

Analysis

One of Cather's main purposes in this section is to bring Jim and Ántonia together again and examine how time has changed each of them.

Jim finds Ántonia "battered but not diminished," and he realizes that she was — and still is — a symbol of life. Her happiness bursts out from the dark areas of her life just as the children rush upward — like an explosion of life — from the dark cave. The cave reminds us of the dugout where the Shimerdas lived when they first arrived in Nebraska; it symbolizes all the darkness and all the hardships of Ántonia's life, which she has made fruitful.

In the scene when Ántonia is displaying and showing the photographs, Cather contrasts her with Lena, who is essentially unchanged in appearance and who has lived a shallow, static life. Ántonia, on the other hand, bears scars from her hard life, but her life has been more fulfilling than Lena's. When thinking about Ántonia's lost teeth, Jim realizes that he knows "so many women who have kept all the things that she had lost, but whose inner glow has faded." Whatever else is gone, Ántonia has not lost the fire of life. She is a "rich mine of life like the founders of early races." Here again, Cather links her characters with the classical and mythological past. Ántonia is triumphant, larger than life, magnificent against the prairie — like the plow against the sun in Book II.

Cuzak and Jim are similar in that both left their roots to settle in unfamiliar lands. But Cuzak has put down new roots, mostly due to Ántonia's help; Jim often feels rootless. Even Jim's job — which requires extensive traveling — emphasizes that he is adrift. At the end of the novel, he finally admits to himself that he has come home, and he plans to spend many more years returning to Nebraska, spending time with Ántonia and her family. He realizes that he may have lost something by being away for twenty years, that both he and Ántonia may have lost something — although, as she has always done, Ántonia has adapted to the ever-flowing current of years. In the future, Jim plans to revisit Ántonia and her family and learn from their Old Country wisdom how to more fully appreciate people and life itself.

Glossary

breaking up this place and making the first crops grow Cuzak is referring to plowing his land and making it suitable for growing crops.

capote a long cloak, usually with a hood. Cather is metaphorically referring to the green feathers on the ducks' heads and necks as such a cloak.

he'll be rich some day Here, Ántonia equates hard work with financial success, as did most of the immigrant pioneers.

hollyhocks tall, usually biennial plants of the mallow family, with palmately lobed leaves, a hairy stem, and large, showy flowers of various colors in elongated spikes.

Jan the Bohemian equivalent of John; pronounced "yahn."

Niobrara a river flowing from eastern Wyoming east through northern Nebraska into the Missouri River.

kolaches (ko-LAH-cheese) small, round Bohemian pastries with fruit filling in their centers. The Ceske Kolaces (Czech kolaches) that Ántonia and her family eat are made with lard and require much time to make (the dough must rise five separate times). Josie Macha Nemec shared this modern, and quite tasty, equivalent still made by the Czechs in southeast Nebraska.

Refrigerator Butter Kolaches

4 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 cup cold milk

1 cup butter or margarine

3 egg yolks

2 tablespoons sugar

1 egg

2 packages yeast

2 teaspoons salt

Cut butter or margarine into flour as for pie crust. Mix together sugar, salt, and dry yeast; add flour mixture. Beat yolks, cold milk, and one egg together, and add to flour mixture. Stir together until elastic, adding more flour, if needed. Place in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight. The next day, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll dough into a 1-inch thick sheet and cut into 2-inch circles. Place on ungreased sheets; let rise until almost double. Make depression in center of each circle with fingers and fill with your favorite filling. Let finish rising until double. Bake 15-20 minutes.

Prune Filling

Cook 50 prunes until soft. Drain, pit, and mash. Add 4 tablespoons sugar and a small amount of the prune juice you drained, if needed. Prune, poppy seed, apricot, and cottage cheese are traditional kolache fillings, but you may substitute almost any canned pie filling (cherry is particularly good).

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




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