HomeLiterature Study GuidesMy ÁntoniaBook 2 Chapters 3 4 Summary

My Ántonia | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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My Ántonia | Book 2, Chapters 3–4 : The Hired Girls | Summary

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Summary

Book 2, Chapter 3

Ántonia comes to work for the Harling family. She enjoys playing with the children and is eager to please Charley especially. The youngest Harling, Nina, is easily offended and her large eyes can fill up with tears. When this happens, playtime is over for the children. Mr. Harling is rarely at home, but when he is, the children must be quiet and Mrs. Harling gives her husband her undivided attention day and night.

Book 2, Chapter 4

Another girl, Lena Lingard comes to town to apprentice with the dressmaker. She stops by the Harlings' to greet Ántonia and Jim, who hardly recognize her in stockings, shoes, and a nice dress. She declares she is done with the farm and has no plans to marry. Lena is one of many children of a poor Norwegian farming family. For many years she has herded the cows wearing rags and has tried to help her struggling, overworked mother with her numerous siblings. When she makes over a donated dress and wears it to church, her beauty is suddenly evident to everyone. Ole Benson has long been an admirer of Lena's. His wife "Crazy Mary" hates the girl and chases her across the prairie with a knife. Lena claims she has done nothing to seduce Benson or earn a bad reputation. She calmly states that she can't make him go away because, as she says, "it ain't my prairie."

Analysis

The Harling family, whom readers learn more about in Chapter 3, were based on Cather's own next door neighbors in Red Cloud, the Miner family. As Cather was writing the novel, she learned of Mrs. Miner's death and was careful to sketch her personality as closely as she could when she wrote of Mrs. Harling. Cather dedicated the novel to two of the three Miner daughters, with whom she remained lifelong friends. Cather incorporated many of the people from the Red Cloud of her childhood into this section of the book.

Cather introduces readers to Lena Lingard in Chapter 4. Lena is a beautiful, sensual, and self-confident young woman who is familiar, at this point, with little but poverty and hard work. She has seen her mother's struggle as a poor farmer's wife, and she has made the decision to leave that life and make her own way. She has also decided she will not marry. Lena knows what she wants, and she has set out to go about getting it for herself, setting her goal of becoming a seamstress. She refuses to bow to others' opinions of her, and she isn't bothered by male attention. Despite people's "talk" about her, she doesn't admit to any guilt when it comes to the scandal of supposedly seducing Ole Benson. She dismissed such criticism, pointing out she doesn't own the prairie. From her tailored new clothes to her saucy attitude, readers will see more of her confidence and sex appeal as the novel progresses.

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