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My Ántonia | Book 2, Chapter 15 : The Hired Girls | Summary

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Summary

The Cutters have to go to Omaha, but before they leave Mr. Cutter puts valuables under Ántonia's bed and tells her not to leave the house at night while they are gone. Ántonia tells Mrs. Burden she feels wary. Mrs. Burden thinks it best if Ántonia stay with them and sends Jim to sleep at the Cutters instead. One night Jim is awakened to find Mr. Cutter leaning over him, touching his shoulder, becoming furious at finding a man in Ántonia's bed. The two hit each other, and Mr. Cutter has his hand around Jim's neck for a time, but Jim escapes. Jim is badly beaten but begs his grandmother to tell no one. He resents Ántonia for his injuries. Mrs. Burden takes Ántonia to collect her things from the Cutter home, and while they are there Mrs. Cutter arrives in a rage. She tells Mrs. Burden that Mr. Cutter put her on the wrong train, telling her to go ahead to Black Hawk but really giving her a ticket to Kansas City so he could beat her home. Although he could have slipped away with another excuse, Cutter tricks her on purpose instead. Mr. Cutter enjoys enraging his wife as much as his evil deeds, and he looks forward to "reckoning with his wife at the end of an escapade."

Analysis

The author brings readers back to Ántonia's story and the earlier sinister foreshadowing of what happened to Cutter's hired girls. Cutter has laid a plan to trap Ántonia and presumably to rape her. Like readers, Ántonia knows enough about Cutter's character to be suspicious of his instructions to stay alone in the house. She is now wise enough to accept advice, and she decides to stay with the Burdens while Jim goes to the Cutters' in her place. When Cutter leans over Jim in the middle of the night, readers find out just what Cutter's plans really were and get a better sense of what the author meant by saying the other girls had been "worse for the wear" after working for him. They were controlled, trapped, and raped or abused, most likely. Ántonia has escaped this fate, thankfully.

The author gives readers a window into the sick nature of the Cutters' marriage, which will help readers understand an event later in the novel. Cather makes it clear that Mr. Cutter enjoys upsetting his wife just as much as, and perhaps more than, the evils deeds themselves. Jim points out that Mr. Cutter could have, for example, left his wife to come home earlier in any number of other ways, but he chose to trick her into taking the train to Kansas City instead. It is implied that he gets pleasure from the idea of her fuming all the way home at his deceit, perhaps even more pleasure than he would get from taking advantage of Ántonia. He looks forward to "reckoning with his wife at the end of an escapade." This chapter is just a foretaste of their truly twisted relationship, as readers will later learn.

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