Literature Study GuidesMy ÁntoniaBook 2 Chapters 11 12 Summary

My Ántonia | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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My Ántonia | Book 2, Chapters 11–12 : The Hired Girls | Summary

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Summary

Book 2, Chapter 11

Wick Cutter is a nefarious money lender who takes advantage of immigrants. He is a gambler and a womanizer. Two women who have worked for him have been "worse for the wear," and later set up one of them "in the business for which he had fitted her." He is never satisfied and often cheats his workers out of their pay. Jim despises Cutter. His unpleasant wife Mrs. Cutter detests her husband and his adultery, and the two are negatively famous for their constant arguing.

Book 2, Chapter 12

Ántonia has more free time working for the Cutters, and Lena helps her make her own clothes, which copy the dresses of other women in town but using less expensive materials. The girls tease Jim about his grandmother's plans for him to become a pastor, which he finds irritating. Without the Harlings for companionship, as a coolness has developed between them since Ántonia left, Jim has little to do in the evenings. He is a senior in high school and ready to be finished. The small town has become stifling, and he begins to sneak out on Saturday nights to dance at the Firemen's Hall. Ántonia often comes to the dances with Larry Donovan, a passenger conductor. One weekend when Larry is out of town, Jim walks Ántonia home and tries to kiss her. She rebuffs him, and he says Lena lets him kiss her that way. Ántonia warns Jim to stay away from Lena, who is "soft that way." Ántonia wants Jim to go away to college and accomplish great things. He can tell she is proud of him. That night he dreams of Lena saying, once they are alone, "I can kiss you as much as I like." He just wishes the dream was of Ántonia.

Analysis

Cather creates the second villain of the novel in Chapter 11 in the form of Wick Cutter. Like Ambrosch, Cutter lies and takes advantage of women. It seems Cutter is even more evil than ambitious Ambrosch, however. He is an adulterer, gambler, and cheat. The portrait of his character creates some suspense about Ántonia's choice to work for him. Readers question if she will end up like some of his previous employees.

The veiled references to sex in both chapters may remind readers of the earlier euphemism about what happened to the two Bohemian Marys. The blame in this case is laid upon Mr. Cutter, however. The girls are portrayed sympathetically as having been "worse for the wear" which may be another reference to pregnancy. The description of Cutter's taking one girl to Omaha to set her up "in the business to which he had fitted her" can be a veiled reference to prostitution. Other sexual references come up in Chapter 12 in Jim's sensual dream about Lena and his attempt to kiss Ántonia "that way." For a novel with no actual sex scenes, the second book contains quite a few references to sexual activity, which is likely because these chapters portray Jim's normal adolescence and sexual awakening.

Chapter 12 features Jim's angst-ridden teenage phase. He's bored and dissatisfied. He is eager to move on to the next phase of his life, but he's still stuck in high school. The small town is stifling. He just wants to have some fun. He has to sneak out to go to dances at the Firemen's Hall. He's discovered Lena will let him make out with her, but when he tries it with Ántonia, she is shocked and refuses. Although he wishes he had sexy dreams about Ántonia, he does have them about Lena.

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