My Antonia Book V, Chapters 1-3 Summary and Analysis

Willa Cather

Book V, Chapters 1-3 Summary and Analysis

Book V, Chapter I Summary

Despite his promise, Jim doesn't visit Antonia again for twenty years. He means to, but life keeps getting in the way, and deep down he fears that time hasn't been kind to her. Tiny tells him, rather uncharitably, that Antonia has had a hard life, but Lena corrects her: Antonia married a nice man, Cuzak, and had a bunch of children. Hearing this, Jim finally decides to visit.

When he arrives, two of Antonia's sons are standing in a plum thicket, staring at a dead dog. The younger brother is lost in his grief, but they manage to pull themselves away and walk Jim to the house. Antonia's daughters greet him at the door, offering him a chair. Antonia appears suddenly in the doorway. She doesn't recognize him at first, but then rushes around excitedly, gathering all her children to introduce them to her old friend.

Antonia takes Jim down to their new fruit cellar, where she shows him their massive stockpile of preserves. With so many children, it takes a lot of food to keep them fed. Antonia says that this is why their family isn't rich, even though theirs is one of the best producing farms around. Antonia then takes him to the orchards, where she points out individual fruit trees, speaking of them as if they were her children.

While the children measure out a grave for the dead dog, Antonia tells Jim about how hard those first years of marriage were. Her husband wasn't a good farmer, and she had to work hard to keep them out of debt. Her children were a great help. Jim tells Antonia that she should've never gone to work in town, but in spite of everything that happened there, she's still glad she went. The nice ways she learned there helped her raise her children.

Jim agrees to spend the night. He tells Antonia's eldest sons that she was very beautiful once and that he was deeply in love with her. Naturally, the boys are a little embarrassed. After dinner, the entire family sits in the parlour to listen to music. Antonia then brings out a box of photographs, and everyone sits around admiring the pictures of friends and family.

Later, Jim carries his things into the barn, where the boys make their beds. He lies awake a long time, staring up at the moon and thinking of Antonia's remarkable vitality.

Book V, Chapter I Analysis

Allusions

John D. Rockefeller. A wealthy American industrialist known for his success in business. His namesake plaza in New York City is proof of his fame in the early 20th Century. His name has became synonymous with wealth and prestige, and Cather's allusion to him indicates that Mr. Harling was rich, but not that rich.

Metaphor

Leo uses a metaphor when he says, "I'm a big bull snake!" This is in reference to the fact that he has been hiding in some ironweed and jumped out, as a snake would. Later, Jim calls Antonia a "rich mine of life," indicating that she has vast stores of energy and vitality, which she imparts to her children and the world around her.

Motifs

Color. Cather continues to use color to emphasize the beauty and vitality of life. Flowers, grasses, fruits, and trees continue to be described in reds and green (colors which reappear in the descriptions of Antonia's children). Leo's red tongue represents his impishness, whereas his green eyes represent his sensitivity. All of the Cuzaks have a deep tan that Jim describes as healthy.

Simile

Jim uses a simile when he says the orchard "seemed full of sun, like a cup." Later, Jim describes Leo as "faun-like." This is in keeping with Cather's other descriptions of Leo, which all relate in some way to the animal world.

Symbols

The Framed Photographs of Bohemia. Jim sends these to Antonia after he visits Bohemia on a business trip. The mere fact that he's able to visit Bohemia when she isn't indicates that he's of a much higher social status than her and that his white male privilege has opened up many opportunities for him that Antonia will never have. He seems to think nothing of this, however, and Antonia is glad for the photos.

Mr. Shimerda's Violin. Antonia kept this violin after her father's death and gave it to her son, Leo, who plays admirably, considering that he's self-taught. The violin, like the pictures Jim sent of Bohemia, is a symbol of Antonia's homeland and her connection with her ancestors.

Book V, Chapter II Summary

When Jim wake up in Antonia's barn, he finds Leo already awake and entertaining himself with a small bunch of dried flowers. After breakfast, Antonia tells Jim that her eldest daughter, Martha, is doing very well, despite Antonia’s initial fears that marriage would suffocate her. Her husband, Cuzak, returns that afternoon. He's small, but lively, and tells them all about the fair he attended on his vacation. He loved riding the Ferris wheel.

Though Antonia and Cuzak speak primarily in their native tongue, Jim picks out a familiar word, Vasakova, and asks if they're referring to the singer, Maria Vasak. He and Cuzak bond over their shared love of Vasak. At dinner, Antonia's son Rudolph tells the story of Wick Cutter, who killed his wife just to prevent her from inheriting his fortune. Cutter himself then died, and his massive fortune was divided up. Lawyers seem to have gotten most of it.

Later, Cuzak tells his life story to Jim. He went to work in Vienna as a young man, but had a bad habit of spending all his money, so he moved to New York, where he was blacklisted by a union because he worked during a strike. He decided to grow oranges in Florida, but soon fell ill with malaria. He then visited his cousin, Anton Jelinek, in Black Hawk, where he met Antonia. They were married at one and started their new life together. He loves his life, but misses Bohemia.

Book V, Chapter II Analysis

Symbols

Coffin. When Martha got married, Antonia cried as if she were putting Martha "into her coffin." It's clear that this metaphorical "coffin" is really Martha's marriage and that Antonia feared Martha would be stifled by her husband, buried under the work of being housewife; but this turns out not to be the case, and Martha appears very happy.

Themes

Marriage. Cather uses Cuzak's monologue in this chapter to compare and contrast his marriage with that of the Cutters. Wick Cutter, a greedy, spiteful man, killed his wife to prevent her from inheriting his fortune, which amounted to a hundred thousand dollars. This terrible, contentious, and ultimately violent marriage makes Cuzak's marriage look that much better. Though Cuzak still prefers cities to the country, he enjoys his life. It just wasn't what he was expecting.

Book V, Chapter III Summary

Jim finally takes his leave of the Cuzaks. His train doesn't leave until later that night, so he walks around town for a while, eventually finding the old country road that led up to his farm. Since he left Black Hawk, highways have been built through the region, but Jim can still find some of the old ruts left behind by wagons. He thinks about his past and his plans to come back and visit the Cuzaks, and he realizes that this is what he and Antonia share: this road that leads them back to each other.

Book V, Chapter III Analysis

Symbols

The Country Roads. These dirt and sod roads have been all but destroyed by the highways paved through the country. Jim stumbles upon one of these roads while walking around town. As it happens, this is the same road he and Antonia rode down when they first moved to Black Hawk on that cold winter night in the first chapter.

Themes

Home. Despite his long absences, Jim has never stopped thinking of Black Hawk as his home. It shaped his entire personality, affecting the way he thinks about the world, about immigration, and about people in general. At a crucial stage in his development, he associated home with nature, beauty, and love, and this turned him into a romantic with a tendency toward nostalgia.

The Past. One could argue that the entire novel is about the pull of the past on Jim. He dwells on it, revisits it, even surrenders to its beauty. It's very possible that Jim's inability to let go of the past has kept him from marrying and having a family of his own. Jim skirts over the details of his adult life as a lawyer while at the same time delving into Antonia's in detail, suggesting that he places more emphasis on the past than Antonia does.