HomeLiterature Study GuidesMy ÁntoniaBook 4 Chapters 3 4 Summary

My Ántonia | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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My Ántonia | Book 4, Chapters 3–4 : The Pioneer Woman's Story | Summary

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Summary

Book 4, Chapter 3

As Jim drives to visit Mrs. Steavens he notices the land is getting built up "and naturally the whole face of the country is changing." Mrs. Steavens tells Jim more about what happened to Ántonia. She had carefully prepared for her marriage, making clothing and household linens on Mrs. Steavens's sewing machine. She received word from Larry that his line had changed, and they would live in Denver. Ambrosch gave her silverware and money, and away she went to Denver. They heard from her that Larry wanted to wait to get a promotion before the wedding, but then they didn't hear from her for a month. She came home alone, shrouded by a veil, and confessed she was not married. When Ántonia had arrived in Denver she found Larry was sick and had been fired from the railway for "knocking down fares." After her money ran out, he left her. Back at home Ántonia worked in the fields until she delivered her child. Although Ambrosch wanted the baby to be "put ... out in the rain barrel," Ántonia adores her and "was never ashamed." Mrs. Steavens says it is unfair that Lena with her somewhat questionable morals should be so respected and successful, when the much more pure Ántonia should be disgraced. Mrs. Steavens calls Ántonia "a natural-born mother" and wishes she could marry and have more children, although there is little chance of that now.

Book 4, Chapter 4

Jim goes to visit Ántonia. He meets the baby and finds Ántonia working in the field. She stays home now and doesn't work on other farms. They walk to Mr. Shimerda's grave to talk. Jim tells Ántonia all about his life and plans, and Ántonia realizes he will be going away "for good." She says she has no desire to leave the country for the city, that she wants "live and die here." Ántonia knows her purpose in life is to take care of her daughter and make her way easier than her own had been. Jim tells Ántonia he thinks of her more often than anyone else and wishes she were "anything a woman can be to a man," like his wife, or mother, or sister; but as none of that will ever happen, nonetheless she is part of him. As the two say goodbye in the growing dark of night, Ántonia tells him that he, like her father, will always be near her. He promises to return.

Analysis

Modern readers may be startled at the language used to describe Ántonia's pregnancy and birth of her child. Although single motherhood is now common, at the time of the novel women who became pregnant outside of marriage faced an enormous social stigma. Readers will recall the two Marys who had to "retire from the world for a short time" because of pregnancy by bachelors, and Cutter's hired girls who were "worse for the wear" and "fitted" only for prostitution because they had sex outside of wedlock. The stigma of pregnancy outside of wedlock extended also to the child born of such a relationship. In Chapter 3 Ambrosch is certainly extreme in thinking the baby should be "put ... out in the rain barrel," but even compassionate Mrs. Steavens thinks it notable that Ántonia isn't ashamed of the baby. The idea that Ántonia is ruined and has little chance of ever marrying again because of her actions shows readers just how far-reaching the negative consequences of pregnancy outside of marriage would have been for women.

In Chapter 3 Cather creates another villain in the novel, but like the others, he fails to crush Ántonia. Readers learn what Lena hinted that she knew about Larry earlier—that he has a history of manipulating women. He, like earlier villains in the novel including Krajiek, Ambrosch, and Cutter, ends up hurting Ántonia. What is so sinister about Larry is that he ruins her reputation and comes close to breaking her spirit, something none of the earlier men had succeeded in doing. No matter what people said about her working the fields for Ambrosch, or working for Cutter, or how poor she was because of Krajiek, Ántonia kept her head high. After the debacle with Larry, however, Ántonia is humbled, driving home hidden under a veil and staying on the farm instead of going to town or to work on other farms. At her core though, she remains strong, resolved to make her daughter's life easier than her own. None of the villains in the novel ultimately win. The author will show Ántonia's triumph in the final book of the novel.

In Chapter 4 Jim and Ántonia define their relationship. Jim tells Ántonia that he wishes she was something easily definable to him, like his sister or even his wife. She is the person he thinks of most often. As they say their farewells, they do the opposite of breaking up. Jim tells Ántonia she is a part of him, and Ántonia tells Jim he will always be with her.

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