Literature Study GuidesMy ÁntoniaBook 1 Chapters 16 17 Summary

My Ántonia | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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My Ántonia | Book 1, Chapters 16–17 : The Shimerdas | Summary



Book 1, Chapter 16

Five days after his death, Shimerda's body frozen solid in the barn, the neighbors gather to bury him. Mrs. Shimerda and her children make the sign of the cross, kissing his bandaged head—all except Yulka, who is frightened—and the coffin is nailed shut. Mr. Burden prays over the grave, leaving the soul of Mr. Shimerda at God's "judgment seat" which is "also His mercy seat," asking God to ease the way of the widow and her children. Years later, Jim says, when the country is fenced in and roads crisscross the land, the roads do not end up crossing over the grave, but the marked grave stands unmoved like an island in the sea of prairie. The sight of the lone grave moves Jim every time he sees it, as Cather would have the power of the site made clear in its significance.

Book 1, Chapter 17

Spring comes and Jim visits the Shimerdas, who now live in the log cabin the neighbors have built for them just in front of their old dugout. Mr. Burden has sold them a cow, although they still owe him part of the payment for it. Jim is giving reading lessons to Yulka now, as Ántonia is busy working the fields with Ambrosch. Outdoor work has made Ántonia strong and tan, but it prevents her from attending school. She jokes with Ambrosch about which of the two of them has done more work, and Jim notices her manners have not surprisingly grown somewhat coarser. She is now too busy to play with him as they used to.


In Chapter 16 Cather creates another indelible image in the novel. She paints a picture of Mr. Shimerda's final resting place. His body occupies a lone grave in the middle of the prairie, an island of uncut grass surrounded by a small fence just beside the crossroads. It is a melancholy scene that touches Jim whenever he sees it. Mr. Shimerda's grave is a fitting monument to a man who felt so adrift and alone in a new land.

The death of Mr. Shimerda marks a turning point in the novel. In her father's absence, more responsibility falls to Ántonia to help provide for the family and get their farm started. She can no longer focus on her education or go on adventures with Jim as they used to. Gone are the days of their childhood romps together. Instead Ántonia focuses on working the fields, trying to prove her worth to her brother and mother and perhaps even to herself as she feels the lack of her father's unconditional approval. Jim notices the difference in their relationship. She seems older, and she doesn't have time for him anymore. He also notices a change in her manners with a sense of regret. She must work the fields while he will go to school. There is a distance beginning to form between them as they start to inhabit different worlds.

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