Literature Study GuidesMy ÁntoniaBook 3 Chapters 3 4 Summary

My Ántonia | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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My Ántonia | Book 3, Chapters 3–4 : Lena Lingard | Summary

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Summary

Book 3, Chapter 3

Jim and Lena attend a performance of Camille by Alexandre Dumas, fils. Lena is free with her emotions at theater performances, and she cries throughout the play. Jim is glad he brought a woman like Lena rather than a chatty girl from school. He himself is moved to tears by the tragic emotional ending of the play and Marguerite's death. As he walks home in the rain he reflects on the way the story transcends time and space to touch him, even with a has-been actress in the part of Marguerite.

Book 3, Chapter 4

Lena is such a talented dressmaker that clients don't complain when she is over budget or late. Jim spends more and more time with her at her apartment, rented to her by an admiring older gentleman called Colonel Raleigh. The Polish violinist across the hall also keeps an eye on Jim and eventually confronts him. When Jim assures Mr. Ordinsky of his friendly intentions toward Lena, the man lets down his guard. Jim believes he, the violinist, and the Colonel all love Lena. Despite receiving frequent proposals, she insists she will not marry. When she was growing up, home was "a place where there were always too many children, a cross man, and work piling up around a sick woman." She is convinced marriage would mean "being under somebody's thumb." All the time spent with Lena takes Jim's attention away from his studies, and Gaston Cleric notices. When Cleric is offered a position at Harvard, he suggests Jim come with him. Jim agrees and says a fond farewell to Lena.

Analysis

Chapter 3 features the real play by Dumas, Camille, which portrays the story of Marguerite, a French courtesan in the mid-19th century. She falls in love with Armand but gives him up at the wishes of his father, who wants a better match for his son. Marguerite, who is dying, sacrifices her own happiness for Armand's welfare. The tragic tale touches Lena and Jim deeply despite being from another time and place, even despite an elderly actress playing the part of the young Marguerite, and is a testament to Cather's belief in the power of great art to move people and awaken them to their deep feelings.

Both chapters further develop Lena's character. She shows herself to be at once emotional and self-confident. She is the same breathy, soft, lighthearted girl Jim has always known, but he also recognizes the value in her unaffected emotion, a characteristic Cather highlights in Chapter 3. She appreciates the play in a way that more academic but immature girls might not, allowing the play to touch her deeply and weeping openly. Despite being new to the area and often working over-budget and past deadline—as one might expect of the easygoing Lena of earlier chapters—her shop is almost immediately a huge success. Cather shows Lena to be a skilled business woman, indicating just how important independence is to Lena when Lena reasserts her opinion that she has seen what married life was like for her mother. She is determined to remain single and to make her own choices and never "be under somebody's thumb." This is a much stronger, determined statement than she has made before. Lena is maturing.

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