My Antonia Summary
by Willa Cather

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My Antonia Summary

My Antonia is a novel by Willa Cather in which Jim Burden tells the story of his lifelong friendship with a young Bohemian immigrant named Antonia.

  • Jim is sent to live with his grandparents in Nebraska around the same time that Antonia's family emigrates from Bohemia. The two become friends and Jim teaches Antonia to read.

  • Antonia gets a job as a maid and starts attending parties. She gets pregnant, but the father of her child refuses to marry her.

  • Jim leaves to attend law school. Jim later visits Antonia, who now lives on a farm with her loving husband and many children.

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Summary

Book I

My Antonia is narrated by Jim Burden, a young white man who in the course of the novel goes to college, leaves his home of Black Hawk, Nebraska, and later becomes a lawyer. He tells the story of the titular character, Antonia Shimerda, the eldest daughter of a family of Bohemians living in a little farm community to the west of Black Hawk. Jim, who is orphaned at the beginning of the novel and sent to live with his grandparents, spends most of his childhood playing with Antonia, his neighbor, whom he teaches to read.

Jim and Antonia also spend time with Peter, one of the two Russians who live nearby and work a small farm with chickens on it. When Peter's friend Pavel grows ill, Jim and Antonia finally hear the story of how, when they lived in Russia, their sledge was run down by wolves, and everyone in their caravan was killed. Peter and Pavel fled Russia in shame. Unable to support themselves, they fall into debt in Nebraska and lose their farm. Jim and Antonia never see them again.

In January, Mr. Shimerda kills himself after a long battle with homesickness. His family, Antonia included, must fend for themselves. Upon moving into a new log cabin their neighbors helped to build (the Shimerdas were living in a roomy cave before), the mother buys a windmill on credit, preparing herself for the long planting and harvesting seasons. Meanwhile, Jim starts going to the country school and sees less of Antonia. Mostly, they spend time together in the summer.

Book II

Jim relates how he and his grandparents move from the farm to Black Hawk and transition from being farm people to town people . Their neighbors the Harlings have a small farm of their own, and Jim regularly spends time with the Harling children. Most of their country friends stop in to visit on their way to and from various destinations. Antonia visits often and becomes a servant to the Harlings. One day, their friend Lena Lingard, who grew up in a Norwegian settlement, comes to town. Soon, everyone settles into a routine.

Ostensibly, this book of the novel is about servants, and after Jim tells about Antonia becoming a servant, he introduces readers to a blind piano player named Samson who plays at Mrs. Gardener's hotel. One weekend, when Mrs. Gardener is out of town, Jim, Antonia, Lena, and Tiny all dance. Spring comes, and with it dances, roller-skating, and more. Lena gets involved with a young man named Sylvester Lovett, who leads her on and then marries a widow. Jim begins to feel contempt for certain town people like Lovett.

Antonia goes to work for Wick Cutter, the money-lender who destroyed Peter back in Book I. As soon as she starts her new job, she starts partying like Lena does. Jim often fantasizes about Lena and kissing her, but never fantasizes about Antonia like that, and they never enter into a romantic relationship. She's dating Larry Donovan, a kind of "professional ladies' man," and still thinks of Jim as a boy because he's four years younger than her. She's proud of his success in school, and he's proud to be seen walking around town with her.

In part because Antonia and Jim are so close and in part because she has no one else to turn to in this case, Antonia asks Jim to go sleep in her room at the Cutter place while she stays with Jim's grandmother. Mr. and Mrs. Cutter are out of town then, and Antonia doesn't feel safe alone in the house. One night, Mr. Cutter comes home...

(The entire section is 1,392 words.)