My Antonia Book III, Chapters 1-4 Summary and Analysis

Willa Cather

Book III, Chapters 1-4 Summary and Analysis

 

Book III, Chapter I Summary

Jim rents two rooms (a bedroom and a study) from an old couple in Lincoln. In his first year, Jim studies under Gaston Cleric. Cleric moved to Lincoln at the urging of his doctors, who suggested that a peaceful life in the country would help Cleric recover from an illness he contracted in Italy. Jim respects Cleric, and the two of them talk about literature and philosophy.

Book III, Chapter I Analysis

Allusions

Aeneid by Virgil. For a description of the Aeneid, see Book II, Chapter XIV: Allusions.

Dante Alighieri (1265 - 1321). An Italian poet famous for his epic poem The Divine Comedy.

The Divine Comedy. Dante's alter ego, "Pilgrim," travels through Hell and Purgatory on his way to Heaven in Dante's The Divine Comedy. The Pilgrim's guide for most of this journey is Virgil, the Roman poet, who acts as a kind of teacher to the Pilgrim. This relationship mirrors that of Jim and Cleric, who are also student and teacher.

Statius (45 - 96). A Roman poet from the Silver Age of Roman literature. He serves as one of the Pilgrim's guides in the second section of The Divine Comedy, Purgatory.

Tragic Theatre at Pompeii. Also known as the amphitheatre of Pompeii, this "Tragic Theatre" was buried during the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius in 79 AD. The structure, however, was preserved under the ash and lava. It has become a subject of much archaeological study since its excavation.

Virgil. An ancient Roman poet famed for the Aeneid, an epic poem about the Trojan hero Aeneas. Virgil acts as the Pilgrim's guide through much of The Divine Comedy.

Themes

Education. Much has been made of Jim's intelligence and his abilities as a student in previous chapters. Not long after enrolling at university, however, he realizes he doesn't have the temperament of a true scholar. He will later become a lawyer, which should indicate to the reader that Jim's inability to focus on his studies is really a symptom of his homesickness and his desire for Antonia.

Book III, Chapter II Summary

One evening, Lena Lingard comes to visit Jim in Lincoln. He's studying Latin at the time and is grateful for the excuse to stop. She tells him that she has opened up her own dressmaking shop in Lincoln and is doing very well for herself. She plans on building her mother a wooden house and bringing her new furniture. She would've visited him sooner, but she thought he'd be too busy to see her. Everyone back home is so proud of his studiousness.

Jim asks after Antonia, who is, unfortunately, still dating Larry Donovan. She's working for Mrs. Gardener at the hotel now and is safe from Wick Cutter. Antonia has even made up with Mr. and Mrs. Harling, whose daughter Nina still loves Antonia. Lena invites Jim to see a show with her at the theatre in Lincoln. She then leaves, asking Jim to come see her sometime. Returning to Virgil and the Georgics, Jim realizes that without beautiful women like Lena, poets like Virgil wouldn't have anything to write about.

Book III, Chapter II Analysis

Allusions

Georgics by Virgil. Virgil's second most famous work, Georgics is primarily considered with agriculture and nature. Divided into four books and depicting man's struggle with the harsh natural world, it inspired the style of poetry called "georgic," which concerns itself primarily with rules about cultivating land. Jim quotes a line from the Georgics: "Optima dies...prima fugit." This is Latin for: the best days are the first to flee. We can assume, from this quote, that Jim feels his best and happiest days (in the country, in his youth) are behind him.

Themes

Poetry. Near the end of this chapter, Jim has an important revelation: that Lena and Antonia are the kinds of women who inspire great poetry. Virgil's great love Beatrice became his muse in the same way that Antonia becomes Jim's muse, inspiring him to ruminate on the themes of nature and beauty.

Book III, Chapter III Summary

Jim attends a number of plays with Lena that season. He spends much of this chapter recounting the plot of The Lady of the Camellias, a stage play which was adapted from the novel of the same name by Alexandre Dumas. In the play, Marguerite works as a courtesan in France. She contracts consumption and falls in love with Armand. Marguerite is pursued by the Baron de Varville, one of her former lovers. In the end, Marguerite dies.

Despite the bad acting of the woman in the lead role, the play moves Jim to tears, and he's happy to have seen it with Lena. He walks her home in the rain, then goes for a stroll through the lilacs. He associates the beauty of nature with the emotions caused by the play.

Book III, Chapter III Analysis

Allusions

The Lady of the Camellias (Camille) by Alexandre Dumas (fils). Marguerite works as a courtesan in France. When she's available for lovers, she displays a white camellia. When she's menstruating, she displays a red one. Marguerite is supported in large part by the Baron de Varville, but has fallen in love with the young, naive Armand. She understands that Armand's association with her will damage his future, so she pushes him away. She falls ill with consumption, dying in Armand's arms at the end of the play. Jim and Lena see a production of the play in Lincoln.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (père). Dumas's famous novel about imprisonment and revenge. Edmond Dantès assumes the identity of the Count of Monte Cristo after he escapes from the Château d'If, where he was imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit. Upon escaping, he sets about systematically destroying his enemies.

La Traviata by Giuseppi Verdi. Verdi's famous opera about a "fallen woman" named Violetta. La Traviata was inspired in large part by The Lady of the Camellias, which Verdi saw on the stage before writing the opera. All of the incidental music played during the play Jim and Lena see is drawn from Verdi's opera.

"Oh, Promise Me!" Written in 1887, this song was not originally intended to be part of Reginald de Koven's musical Robin Hood, but was included in order to appease the lead actress of the production.

Rip Van Winkle (play) by Joseph Jefferson. Jefferson adapted Hawthorne's short story "Rip Van Winkle" for the stage. The character of Rip Van Winkle is a husband and father who wakes to find that the world has changed after he sleeps for twenty years. Jim and Lena also see this play in Lincoln.

Robin Hood by Reginald de Koven. A comic opera based on the legend of Robin Hood. In the musical, Robin Hood makes an enemy of the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin is sentenced to death, but pardoned at the last minute by King Richard I, who has just returned from the Crusades. Jim and Lena also see this musical.

Shenandoah. A stage play of unknown origin about the Civil War and the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns that took place from May to October of 1864. It's worth noting that Jim, who grew up in Virginia, in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was very likely born in the Shenandoah Valley, which is bounded to the east by the Blue Ridge Mountains. His ancestors likely experienced the horror and devastation of the Civil War first hand. If this means something to Jim, however, he doesn't dwell on it.

Motifs

Music. This chapter, though primarily focused on the theatre, does make reference to two musical works (La Traviata and Robin Hood). Music from La Traviata accompanies the performance of Dumas' The Lady of the Camellias that Jim and Lena see together. It's especially moving because it's part of a tragic love story that tells the story of a popular courtesan who falls in love with Armand, an innocent, naive young man whose reputation could be ruined by their relationship. Music, which has often been used to bring characters together in this novel, here inspires the deepest emotions in Jim. He equates it with love, beauty, and nature.

Themes

Nature. When Jim walks around after the play, the streets are "shining with rain." This shining recalls the glittering of Marguerite's jewels, which Jim admired for their beauty and grace. With this image, Jim reinforces the idea that nature is somehow idyllic or precious. When he associates nature and the play, he's imbuing the earth with the emotions he felt at the theatre: love and admiration and a deep, romantic sadness.

Book III, Chapter IV Summary

Jim praises Lena for her style and skill as a young business owner. She isn't the most punctual of dressmakers, but she does have the best style, and he admires her fine clothes. They regularly go to the theatre and meet for breakfast on Sundays. Lena has a little dog, Prince, and they train him to do tricks.

One day, they happen on the subject of Ole, who was once said to go mad over Lena. Years later, Lena finally corrects this misconception: Ole was just lonely and liked having someone to talk to when he grew tired of the farmwork. His wife, Crazy Mary, made him unhappy, and Lena was a welcome distraction from his troubles. He also had some beautiful tattoos.

Lena's neighbor Ordinsky, a violin-player, has taken an interest in Lena. Their landlord, Colonel Raleigh, has been similarly charmed by Lena. She's uninterested in both of them. Ordinsky drops by one evening on the pretense of needing his dress clothes mended for a concert. Jim happens to be visiting at the time, and Ordinsky treats him coolly until it becomes clear that Jim has Lena's best interests at heart.

Jim, Ordinsky, and Colonel Raleigh becomes friends, in part because all three of them are in love with Lena. Gaston Cleric realizes that Jim will never be able to focus on school if he continues to see Lena, so he asks Jim to come east with him to study. Jim hesitates, but agrees. He visits Lena, who insists that she'll never get married, not even to Ordinsky or Colonel Raleigh. In the midst of this, Jim blurts out that he's planning to leave town. They say a series of sad goodbyes before Jim finally travels east.

Book III, Chapter IV Analysis

Symbols

The Porcelain Bathtub. Lena's landlord installs the porcelain bathtub for Lena even though she doesn't really need it. The bathtub becomes a symbol of his love for her, which will forever go unrequited.

Themes

Love. Lena tells Jim that she always wanted to be his first sweetheart. She refrained for so long because Antonia didn't want Lena to involve Jim in any "nonsense," meaning distracting love affairs. Jim has always been a romantic, however, and has always been distracted by love, beauty, nature, and country girls. It seemed inevitable that he and Lena would get together, and that they would part.

The Past. Jim has been narrating this entire novel in the past tense, which lends everything in it a veneer of nostalgia. It's clear from Jim's tone that his love of Black Hawk and the country girls he left there has never truly left him. His love has imbued the past with emotions that make it difficult for him to differentiate the truth (for instance, Lena's relationship with Ole) from his perception of it.