HomeLiterature Study GuidesMy ÁntoniaBook 4 Chapters 1 2 Summary

My Ántonia | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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My Ántonia | Book 4, Chapters 1–2 : The Pioneer Woman's Story | Summary

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Summary

Book 4, Chapter 1

After finishing at Harvard and before starting law school, Jim goes back to visit his grandparents. He had heard from his grandmother by letter that Ántonia left town to marry Larry Donovan, but Larry abandoned her. She had returned home unmarried and pregnant. Frances tells Jim that Ántonia lives with the child back on the family farm. Jim is "bitterly disappointed in her ... for becoming an object of pity." Everyone now refers to her as "poor Ántonia."

Jim recounts how "of all the girls and boys ... in Black Hawk, Tiny Soderball was to lead the most adventurous life and to achieve the most solid worldly success." She goes first to Seattle and sets up a boarding house for sailors who tell her of newly discovered gold in Alaska. She sells her business and strikes out for the Klondike. She begins by cooking for the men searching for gold and eventually sets up a hotel. After one of her residents dies and leaves her his claim, she sells her hotel, invests in land, and develops the claim. Ten years later a wealthy Tiny moves to San Francisco where she convinces Lena to set up a new shop. To Jim she seems to have no other interest but making money.

Book 4, Chapter 2

Jim sees a portrait of a baby at the photographer's shop, and the photographer tells him it is Ántonia's baby. Jim feels he "could forgive her ... if she hadn't throw herself away" on a man like Larry Donovan, a passenger conductor who convinces "his sweethearts" to feel sorry he is relegated to his position when he would really be better suited to a higher one. He is careful to never appear in uniform except on the train. Jim wonders what went wrong with Ántonia's plans to marry Larry. Mrs. Harling tells Jim to ask the Widow Steavens, who not only helped Ántonia get ready for her wedding but also took care of her and her baby when she returned.

Analysis

After painting a brief picture of the fate of "poor Ántonia" who falls for Larry Donovan and is abandoned, the author provides a contrast in Chapter 1 of the success of Tiny and Lena. Readers get a glimpse into Tiny and Lena's futures as Jim tells the story of how Tiny becomes wealthy, and it is worth noting that these two successful women become so by choosing to remain single and running their own businesses. Tiny takes calculated risks, selling each successful venture when better opportunities present themselves. She recognizes opportunities and takes advantage of them, becoming a rich woman. Lena, too, becomes an even more successful businesswoman by opening a shop in the larger city of San Francisco. Like Cather herself, these two women never marry and leave their small town to gain worldly recognition. In light of the contrast the author creates in this first chapter of Book 4, readers may well suspect Ántonia's is a cautionary tale to women who would trust men too easily with their hearts, bodies, and reputations.

Both chapters show Jim's arrogance and judgment of others. He feels he "could forgive" Ántonia if only she hadn't "thrown herself away" on Larry. He seems to believe he is in a position to make judgments about her life, even though he has been away at college for four years and has always enjoyed privileges not available to her. He assumes she has done something that needs to be forgiven and also that she has some sort of obligation to him regarding appropriate behavior. Jim judges her choice of romantic partner as not only poor but reckless, which objectifies Ántonia as if she herself is a thing she threw away.

The author develops the character of Larry Donovan in Chapter 2. He is a pretentious, entitled man who has a history of manipulating women. He thinks he deserves a higher position in the railway company, and he doesn't want anyone to see him in his uniform. He has a practice of getting "his sweetheart" to sympathize with the injustice he faces. No doubt kindhearted Ántonia was just such a girl.

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