HomeLiterature Study GuidesMy ÁntoniaBook 1 Chapters 18 19 Summary

My Ántonia | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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My Ántonia | Book 1, Chapters 18–19 : The Shimerdas | Summary

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Summary

Book 1, Chapter 19

Jim and Jake go one day to the Shimerdas to collect a horse collar they lent them. Ambrosch acts dumb. When Jake insists on finding the collar, Ambrosch tries to return a badly used one, and Jake is angry. When Ambrosch tries to kick Jake, an unfair move in his mind, Jake hits Ambrosch, knocking him down. Ántonia and Mrs. Shimerda come running, and Ántonia says she will no longer be Jim's friend. Mr. Burden has Jake go to town to pay a fine anticipating Mrs. Shimerda will lodge a complaint, which she does. Mr. Burden makes peace with the Shimerdas by offering Ambrosch and Ántonia work during harvest and by forgiving their loan on the cow he sold them.

Book 1, Chapter 19

Ántonia now helps Mrs. Burden with indoors work while Ambrosch assists with the wheat harvest. Ántonia likes to work outside better than inside even though it "makes [her] like a man." In the hot July weather a storm rolls in, and Jim and Ántonia watch it from the roof of the chicken coop. Ántonia wishes her father could have lived to enjoy the summer. Jim asks why she is nice to him now, here at his home, but at other times she tries "to be like Ambrosch." Ántonia replies with significant insight that his life is different from hers, claiming, "things will be easy for you. But they will be hard for us."

Analysis

The conflict and resolution between the two families in Chapter 18 further develops the characters of all the players. Ambrosch proves himself not only mean but also dishonest. He first acts as if he doesn't know what Jake is talking about, as if he hadn't ever borrowed a horse collar. Then he tries to give them a raggedy old collar, instead of the one he had borrowed. Mrs. Shimerda shows herself to be vindictive as well as ungrateful. She goes to town to call down the law on Jake for hitting her son, despite all that the Burdens have done for her family. Readers learn Ántonia is ultimately more loyal to her family than anyone. The moment someone calls Ambrosch to account, she severs ties with them. She seems ready to end her friendship with Jim immediately. Mr. Burden is, as ever, wise and generous. He knows Mrs. Shimerda well enough to counsel Jake to preemptively pay the fine, anticipating that she will file a complaint against him for hurting her son. Mr. Burden also knows how to heal the rift between the two families. Counting on their need for money, he offers to hire not just Ambrosch but also Ántonia for harvest, and he cancels their debt on the cow. His wisdom and generosity ends the conflict.

Ántonia's comment at the end of Chapter 19 sums up the difference between herself and Jim, a difference Book 1 has illustrated in numerous ways. She claims, "things will be easy for you. But they will be hard for us." Ántonia's life, and the life of her family and other immigrants, has indeed been much harder than Jim's life. Jim came westward on the same train, but he was still in his country of birth and knew how to speak and read English. He was also greeted by family who would provide a home and all his other needs including an education. Ántonia and other immigrants had to leave everything they knew, often entering a country in which they could not understand the language. They had only what they could carry, and they started their claims with very little. Life is a struggle for Ántonia in a way that Jim still fails to really understand, despite witnessing the Shimerdas' poverty and loss first hand. He also fails to understand why she is more carefree at the Burden home than her own, but at home she must compete for her mother's approval with her favored brother. She wants to be seen as a hard worker, as good enough, as earning her keep. At the Burdens' she knows she is loved and appreciated already, which makes her nicer, according to Jim.

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