HomeLiterature Study GuidesMy ÁntoniaBook 3 Chapters 1 2 Summary

My Ántonia | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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My Ántonia | Book 3, Chapters 1–2 : Lena Lingard | Summary

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Summary

Book 3, Chapter 1

Jim begins college in Lincoln, renting two small rooms from an older couple. He stays over the following summer, rather than returning to Black Hawk, in order to study Greek, and finds a friend and mentor in his professor Gaston Cleric, who introduces Jim "to the world of ideas." Even as Cleric describes his time in Greece touring ancient sites, Jim finds himself "thinking of the places and people of my [his] own infinitesimal past ... who [stand] out strengthened and simplified now, like the image of the plough against the sun." In his mind the people of his childhood are his constant companions.

Book 3, Chapter 2

Jim reads the Georgics to prepare for class, and the text includes Virgil's phrase "optima dies ... prima fugit" which means "the best days are first to flee." As he reflects on Cleric's guess that Virgil was thankful on this deathbed that he had been "the first ... to bring the Muse into my country," Jim wonders if Cleric feels the same.

One evening Lena Lingard visits Jim. She has opened her own dressmaking shop in Lincoln. Her business is doing well enough for her to employ other sewing girls and to begin building her mother the house she has always wanted. Lena tells Jim the news from Black Hawk. Ántonia is now the housekeeper for the hotel and still seeing Larry Donovan. Lena says Ántonia's one fault is "once she likes people, she won't hear anything against them" because "she's so sort of innocent." Lena says she has noticed Jim at the theater and that she too enjoys plays. She suggests they see a play together sometime, and ends the visit. Jim is left remembering all the hired girls fondly and realizes that "if there were no girls like them in the world, there would be no poetry."

Analysis

Cather's portrayal of Jim's time in Lincoln as described in both chapters is somewhat autobiographical. His study of the classics and his enjoyment of the theater in Lincoln draw on Cather's own experiences as a student at that University of Nebraska in Lincoln. She majored in the humanities, studying Greek and Latin, like Jim. After being involved in small-town theater back in Red Cloud, the arts in Lincoln were exceptional and varied, fed by the traveling performances that came through because of the railroad. These are the types of performance Jim is said to enjoy, too. Cather reveled in the arts the city had to offer, just as readers will see Jim and Lena do in coming chapters.

Both chapters develop the theme of nostalgia. Chapter 2 references the epigraph of the novel, which is a quote from Virgil: "optima dies ... prima fugit," coming from Virgil's Georgics, a classical work which offered instructions on how to best live off the land. The connection between the quote Cather selected as an epigraph and the novel is twofold. First, the topic of the Georgics is earning a living from the land; the setting of the novel is agricultural Nebraska, and its main characters are settlers farming the territory. Second is the connection between the nostalgic sentiment of the phrase, "the best days fly by first," and the romantic view of the past that saturates the novel, which is cast as a memoir. In Chapter 1 Jim claims that "the places and people of my infinitesimal past" are his constant companions. The characters of his childhood are like the image of the plough. They represent a past that both vanishes but endures in his memory.

The author foreshadows Ántonia's downfall in Lena's assertion in Chapter 2 that Ántonia's one fault is naively thinking the best of people. Ántonia refuses "to hear anything against" Larry Donovan, the implication being there is something negative to be known, and readers will soon find out what this flaw costs her.

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