Download My Antonia Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Book I, Introduction and Chapters 1-10 Summary and Analysis

Book I, Chapter I Summary

The novel opens with the narrator Jim Burden traveling to Black Hawk, Nebraska, where he will live with his grandparents now that he's an orphan. On the way there, the passenger conductor, a friendly man, tells Jim and his traveling companion Jake, his grandfather's new hired hand, about the foreigners going to settle in Nebraska, only one of whom (the titular Antonia, a girl just four years older than Jim) knows a few words in English. It's clear that Jake is disgusted by this influx of foreigners, but Jim withholds judgment, focusing instead on surviving the long, bumpy ride to Nebraska.

Upon arrival, Jim and Jake are met by a man named Otto Fuchs, who drives them out to the farm just west of Black Hawk. Jim notes that Otto looks like he could be a character in the Jesse James book he's been reading during the long trip. Otto has a huge scar across one cheek, half of his left ear is gone, and he has a deep brown tan, along with "the face of a desperado." He drives Jim and Jake in an old straw-filled wagon and covers them with buffalo hides to keep warm. Jim marvels somewhat at the size of the land, feeling very small and "blotted out." He doesn't say his prayers, reasoning that in this landscape, "what would be would be," regardless of his prayers.

Book I, Chapter I Analysis

Alliteration

Cather uses alliteration when she writes that "Jake's experience of the world was not much wider than mine," where "mine" is Jim's.

Allusions

Jesse James (1847 - 1882). A Confederate guerrilla and bushwhacker, James is best known as a bank robber and gunslinger who terrorized the Wild West for a couple decades. In his final years, he and his gang members were under increasing pressure from the law, and it became difficult for them to remain active. Eventually, James was killed by one of the gang members, Ford, who was hoping for a reward.

Life of Jesse James. Likely, this is a dimestore novel about Jesse James, the famed gunslinger and bank robber.

Metaphor

One example of a metaphor from this chapter is the description of the conductor's gold cufflinks as being inscribed with "hieroglyphics," where hieroglyphics are a metaphor for the symbols and etchings that Jim finds incomprehensible (they aren't, of course, real hieroglyphics).

Personification

Jim personifies an engine when he describes it as "panting heavily after its long run," as if it were a person who'd just run a marathon.

Simile

The passenger conductor uses a simile when he says Antonia is "as bright as a new dollar." Later, Jim uses a few similes when describing Otto, whose moustache turns up at the corners "like little horns."

Themes

Nature.  When Jim looks up at the big, Midwestern sky, unridged by mountains, he feels "erased, blotted out" by the incredible size and grandeur of the sky. In comparison to the vastness of nature, Jim feels small and insignificant, and he abandons his prayers for the night, thinking that nature, with all its glory, will be more powerful than any prayer he...

(The entire section is 3,842 words.)