HomeLiterature Study GuidesMy ÁntoniaBook 1 Chapters 2 3 Summary

My Ántonia | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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My Ántonia | Book 1, Chapters 2–3 : The Shimerdas | Summary

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Summary

Book 1, Chapter 2

Jim awakens in the afternoon to see his grandmother, an energetic, loving woman, watching over him. She takes him to bathe in the pleasant, warm kitchen of the wooden farmhouse, which is in the basement. She tells him the Shimerdas are their nearest neighbors, most of whom live in sod houses or dugouts. His grandfather, Otto, and Jake come in for supper. His grandfather is a dignified, religious, kind man with an impressive white beard. Jim is awed by his voice as he reads the Bible to the family. After supper, Otto, originally from Austria, tells Jim about a pony that has been bought for the boy to ride. He answers all Jim's questions about his life. The next morning Jim eagerly surveys the family farm, surrounded by great expanses of moving prairie grasses. He goes with grandmother to the vegetable garden to dig potatoes. Jim remains behind in the garden, enjoying all of nature around him, finding himself perfectly happy to be "part of something entire ... to be dissolved into something complete and great."

Book 1, Chapter 3

Otto drives Jim and his grandmother to visit their new Bohemian neighbors, the Shimerda family, taking along some food for the family. The Shimerdas have few supplies and little money. They were cheated in their purchase of a meager dugout and poor quality animals by Peter Krajiek, the only person with whom they can communicate. After traveling a long way through the prairie grasses, past a creek around which cotton woods and sunflowers grow, they reach the rundown dugout. They meet the whole Shimerda family, which includes the mother, who complains about the house, the father, a dignified man with white, smooth hands, their eldest son Ambrosch, disabled son Marek, and daughters Ántonia, with dark hair and eyes, and Yulka who is fair. The family is grateful for the food, as they have had little to eat since they arrived. Ántonia takes Jim's hand and the two run to the creek with Yulka. Ántonia asks Jim the words for the things around them. She learns quickly, and tries to give Jim a silver ring from her finger, which he protests. Mr. Shimerda calls Ántonia when it is time for the visitors to depart, and she runs to him kissing his hands. Before they leave, Mr. Shimerda asks Jim's grandmother to teach Ántonia English.

Analysis

Although Jim initially found the landscape of the prairie alienating, he quickly embraces it and his place in it. In Chapter 2, his passion for the sky, the land, and its creatures is clear from his contentment in the garden. Amidst the growing vegetables and busy insects, he relaxes in the sunshine, feeling complete happiness and contentment to be a part of it all. His love for the region never fades, as readers may recall from the Introduction where he is an adult with the same feelings.

The author contrasts the homes of the Burden family and Shimerdas in these two chapters to show the relative wealth of the one and the stinging poverty of the other. The Burden family is relatively well-to-do, having one of the very few wooden house in the area. In the middle of the prairies, with very few trees, most people must resort to houses made of blocks of sod cut from the ground, or in dugouts, like the Shimerdas, something excavated from the earth with a small door and window. The Burden farm has many outbuildings, and Jim's grandparents can afford farmhands. The Burden farm is evidently successful, as they have plenty to eat, with enough to share comfortably with their new neighbors. This is in contrast with the poverty of the Shimerdas who, new to the country and cheated by their countryman Peter Krajiek, have no reserves and few resources. The Burden home is filled with light, warmth and plenty, while the Shimerda home is dark, dirty, and sparse.

In Chapter 3, readers get their first glimpse of one of the villains of the story, Peter Krajiek. Although an immigrant himself and an acquaintance and fellow countryman of the Shimerdas, he takes advantage of them. He asks for more money than his land and animals are really worth, knowing full well the Shimerdas lack the language skills to determine fair market prices, preying on their trust and vulnerability.

The author introduces readers to Ántonia in Chapter 3, showing her to be a friendly, generous, intelligent girl. She strikes up a friendship with Jim immediately and with ease, literally offering him her hand as they run off to play together. She is eager to learn and picks up the English words for things quickly. Although she has almost no possessions, she wants to give Jim her ring in gratitude. He finds this gesture odd. She is affectionate toward Jim and her father, with whom she has a special relationship. The author develops Ántonia's character and offers a preview of her relationship with Jim in this first encounter between the two. He finds her lovely and captivating but also strange.

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