Literature Study GuidesMy ÁntoniaBook 5 Chapters 1 2 Summary

My Ántonia | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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My Ántonia | Book 5, Chapters 1–2 : Cuzak's Boys | Summary

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Summary

Book 5, Chapter 1

Over the many years to come Jim hears from Ántonia occasionally. He learns that she marries and has a number of children. Tiny tells him Ántonia is poor, but Lena tells Jim Ántonia is a happy mother with a good husband. He worries he will "find her aged and broken." Nevertheless, some 20 years after saying goodbye, Jim travels to Nebraska to visit Ántonia and her family. He can see, despite her worn face and changed body, that her eyes are the same. He believes that "whatever else was gone, Ántonia had not lost the fire of life." She proudly introduces her children, many of whom are named for her childhood friends and family, and all of whom know their mother's stories of Jim. They have framed photos of her village in Bohemia, which Jim has sent from a trip. Ántonia's eldest daughter is married with a child of her own, and Ántonia's eldest son and husband are away. The younger children show him all around the bountiful farm, with its fruit cellar and orchards. They are very proud of their mother, and they make up a contented, close family. Ántonia says that although her husband was not an experienced farmer when they married, they have worked hard together to build their little farm, and she is very happy. Jim reflects that Ántonia is a "rich mine of life." Jim sleeps with the boys in the hay mow as if he were a boy himself.

Book 5, Chapter 2

The next day Ántonia's husband, Anton Cuzak, and her older son, Rudolph, return from their trip. Cuzak has brought gifts for his children and welcomes Jim. Over supper Rudolph tells the bizarre story of the Cutters. Worried that Mrs. Cutter would outlive him and that some of his money would eventually fall to her relatives, whom he disliked, Cutter shot Mrs. Cutter and then himself. He hung on to life long enough to tell the concerned bystanders that he had outlived his wife, ensuring his money would be distributed according to his will, not hers. Jim says he's never heard anything like it.

After supper, Cuzak tells Jim about his life. He came to America from Prague and loves the city, although he tells Jim that Ántonia has helped make his country life good. Cuzak says when he came to Nebraska he recognized in Ántonia "exactly the kind of girl he had always been hunting for." Although Cuzak misses the arts and pace of the city, he is content with Ántonia, who is "a good wife for a poor man," a woman who doesn't expect him to be perfect. Jim wonders if "the life that was right for one was ever right for two."

Analysis

As Jim tours Ántonia's farm with her children in Chapter 1, it is clear that the farm is a bountiful place and that its fecundity is matched only by the Cuzak family themselves. There are animals and orchards and food stored away in the fruit cellar. On the Cuzak farm Jim is surrounded by plenty and also by children. It is a happy abundance, and both the farm and the family have come about because of Ántonia. More than that, it has all come from her. Cather makes it evident that Ántonia as a person truly is a "rich mine of life."

In Chapter 2 Cather shows the final ending of the unhappy Cutters. Readers knew Cutter was miserly and greedy and that he enjoyed upsetting his wife, but the idea that he feared his money going to her family is a new insight into his character and motivation. He is so disgusted with the thought that any of her family should benefit from his money should he die before his wife, he will go to any lengths to prevent it, even commit suicide. He can't just kill himself though, because then they would get the money—so he plans to outlive her by a few minutes. He murders his wife and then shoots himself, making sure to point out to witnesses that he outlived her. This last step was necessary so that his will would take precedence over hers. As the surviving spouse, his will must be followed as far as what will happen to his money. Cather made the pair so unsympathetic that it is not surprising neither Jim nor readers feel sorry for their deaths.

In Chapter 3 the author introduces readers to the man who marries Ántonia, a man unlike any other in the novel. Anton Cuzak is of course not the first man to recognize her value, but he's the first to sacrifice his own desires for hers. Unlike Ambrosch, Cutter, and Larry, who manipulated her to take advantage of her or to cheat her out of her work or money, Cuzak becomes her partner in working toward her dreams. He sets aside his preference for a city life for her desire to live on the land with a large family. He is open to being persuaded by her. Unlike Jim, there is no suggestion that Cuzak thinks Ántonia needs his forgiveness for her past decisions, and he realizes and appreciates that she overlooks his faults. Unlike Mr. Shimerda, Cuzak is not overcome by discouraging circumstances but perseveres with her to create a successful farm. Ántonia has found her match in a character who embodies all that is good and noble, the type of figure who recurs in many of her works.

Although Ántonia has a fulfilling marriage, in much of Cather's work main characters never marry, and the wish of such a relationship has to suffice. The absence of happy unions in her work has led some to speculate about Cather's own personal life and sexuality. Little about that can be known with certainty, but much can be gleaned from Jim's question about marriage and the fact that his own marriage is so unhappy. Jim wonders if one partner in a marriage must necessarily always sacrifice for the other, if "the life that was right for one was ever right for two." Even the most fruitful of marriages in the novel, between Ántonia and Cuzak, has meant one partner forgoing his ideal life for the sake of his partner. Cather's portrayal of marriage leaves the subject ambiguous.

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