My Antonia Chapters 11-19 Summary and Analysis

Willa Cather

Chapters 11-19 Summary and Analysis

Book I, Chapter XI Summary

Jim's grandparents plan to send Jake into town to do all their Christmas shopping, but this plan is foiled when a snowstorm shuts down the roads and make it impossible for them to drive to town. The Burdens instead settle in for a country Christmas. Jim makes Yulka a scrapbook for a present and sends it along with the other things the Burdens are sending the Shimerdas. He then helps his grandparents decorate the Christmas tree and feels grateful for his family and friends.

Book I, Chapter XI Analysis

Allusions

Tree of Knowledge. Officially called The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, this is the tree of whose fruit Eve ate in the Garden of Eden. Though tradition holds that this fruit was an apple, in fact, the tree has never been definitively identified, and the fruit has become a symbol of man's downfall.

Similes

Once again, this chapter is rich in similes, including this one: "...legends and stories nestled like birds in [the tree's] branches."

Themes

Family. For Jim, Christmas means family and holiday traditions. He takes comfort in having a Christmas tree and giving presents, and he enjoys talking to and observing Jake and Otto, his family's hired hands, who live with the Burdens and become not unlike his family. This is especially important when one considers that Jim was orphaned at the beginning of the novel.

Book I, Chapter XII Summary

On Christmas Day, Jim joins his grandparents and their hired hands, Jake and Otto, for morning prayers. Jim's grandfather isn't a verbose man, but leads the prayers beautifully. After breakfast, Otto sits down to write a letter to his mother while Jim and Jake play dominoes. Mr. Shimerda comes over, and the Burdens invite him to stay for dinner.

Book I, Chapter XII Analysis

Alliteration

Cather uses alliteration when she describes Mr. Shimerda wearing a "rabbit-skin cap and collar."

Allusions

St. Matthew. One of the twelve apostles of Jesus. St. Matthew was a tax collector who was called by Jesus to become an apostle. Cather refers to the Gospel According to Matthew, the first book of the New Testament.

Assonance

Cather uses internal rhyme in the line, "new mittens his wife had knitted."

Themes

Language. Cather continues to develop the theme of language by using it to characterize Jim's grandfather, a reserved man who doesn't often express his emotions. It's only through Grandfather's prayers that his family comes to know him. Language becomes a kind of window into the character's psyche. That window can close, however, and Otto's struggle to communicate in his native language has the effect of closing his past to the reader.

Religion. In this chapter, Cather emphasizes the differences between Mr. Shimerda's religious experience and the Burdens' religious experience. Mr. Shimerda is depicted as rigid and serious, whereas the Burdens enjoy a warm and genial Christmas replete with candles and presents.

Book I, Chapter XIII Summary

After Christmas, the ground thaws. Mrs. Shimerda and Antonia visit the Burdens. Mrs. Shimerda guilts Jim's grandmother into giving the Shimerdas a pot. Mr. Shimerda, Antonia says, has fallen into a depression and refuses to play his violin, but Jim is so put off by Mrs. Shimerda that he has no sympathy for her husband. Then, on Jim's eleventh birthday, a big storm hits. The Burdens are forced inside, and Jake and Otto spend all day digging just to make a path to the chicken coop.

Book I, Chapter XIII Analysis

Allusions

The Prince of the House of David by Joseph Holt Ingraham. An historical novel relating the story of Christ's years on Earth, as told through the eyes of a girl. The novel was published in 1859 and remained popular in Christian communities for years after.

Onomatopoeia

Cather uses onomatopoeia when she writes, "Thud, thud, we could hear the impact…"

Simile

When Jake and Otto come in out of the storm, Jim describes them as being "white as snow-men."

Themes

Nature. At the end of this chapter, a huge storm buries the Burdens and their livestock under several feet of snow. The men are obliged to spend an entire day doing chores that normally take a fraction of the time. Jim says this is "unnatural." Here, we see two different meanings of the word "nature": the natural world, and the natural order of life in the country. These two things are not always in synch, and this disconnect will only become more pronounced as Jim grows older and leaves the farm.

Book I, Chapter XIV Analysis

Allusions

Dives. In Latin, "dives" means rich man. This word is used as the name of the rich man in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. During his life, the rich man allowed Lazarus to starve on the street. In the afterlife, Lazarus goes to heaven and the rich man lives in perpetual torment. Jim briefly fears for Mr. Shimerda's soul because of Dives, but concludes that Mr. Shimerda never did anything to deserve such a fate.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. A classic novel about a man shipwrecked on an island. His solitude mirrors Jim's in this chapter, but, as Jim says, Crusoe's life isn't as exciting as life in Black Hawk.

Simile

Jake uses a simile when he says Mr. Shimerda's corpse was "as stiff as a dressed turkey you hang out to freeze."

Themes

Death. Mr. Shimerda's suicide isn't the first death in this novel. In the first chapter, we learned that Jim had been orphaned suddenly and that he was going to live with his grandparents. It's especially interesting to view Jim's response to Mr. Shimerda's death in light of his own circumstances. He hopes that Mr. Shimerda's soul will find peace, rather than salvation. He doesn't believe that Mr. Shimerda will go to Purgatory. He instead thinks Mr. Shimerda's soul has settled in the Burdens' home, where he finds warmth and peace. The sentimental nature of this belief characterizes Jim as a sensitive young man.

Religion. Jim and Ambrosch have very different religious beliefs. Ambrosch believes that his father's soul has gone to Purgatory and that the Shimerdas will have to pray for years to get his soul out. Jim, on the other hand, doesn't think Mr. Shimerda's soul deserves to suffer. In the Catholic Church, suicide is a mortal sin and risks eternal damnation. As a Protestant, Jim doesn't believe this, and instead imagines Mr. Shimerda's soul finding peace in the Burdens' home.

Book I, Chapter XV Summary

Otto Fuchs returns from Black Hawk with Anton Jelinek, a Bohemian man who has also settled in Black Hawk. Otto tells the Burdens that the coroner should arrive that afternoon, but that the country priest is a hundred miles away. Over dinner, Jelinek explains that this is very bad for the Shimerdas, who believe that, because Mr. Shimerda committed suicide, a priest must pray for his soul. Jelinek lived through a war and knows how bad it is for a man to die without receiving the Holy Sacrament.

Otto builds Mr. Shimerda's coffin. Meanwhile, many different people come to visit the Burdens, having heard about the tragedy. Jim's grandmother makes a small feast, including chocolate cake, and the men eat and talk that night. Ambrosch and his mother want to bury Mr. Shimerda's body on the corner of their property, where they hope a crossroads will be built over his grave.

Book I, Chapter XV Analysis

Symbols

Coffin. The coffin Otto makes for Mr. Shimerda in this chapter is a clear symbol of death. Cather makes a point of describing the process of building the coffin as beautiful or soothing, using the sounds of the plane to suggest that the coffin is a fine example of craftsmanship. By extension, the death the coffin symbolizes seems like less of a tragedy.

Themes

Death. In the aftermath of Mr. Shimerda's suicide, death becomes a major theme in the novel. Otto tells Jim stories about "violent deaths and casual buryings, and the queer fancies of dying men." Otto believes that a man's true character is revealed only in death, both in the manner of his death and in the way he faces it. Mr. Shimerda, the reader infers, wasn't afraid of death.

Religion. Cather continues to emphasize the religious differences between the Burdens and the Bohemians. Anton, like Ambrosch, thinks that it's wrong for a man to die without the Sacrament or be buried without a priest's blessing. Jim's grandfather doesn't agree, but understands the sentiment.

Book I, Chapter XVI Summary

Jim and the mourners ride up to the Shimerdas' cave house for the funeral. They cut the body out of the ice, then place it in the coffin and carry it out to the edge of the Shimerdas' property on the wagon. Jim's grandfather says prayers over the grave, and Otto leads all the mourners in a hymn. Mr. Shimerda's grave is marked by a wooden cross with a wire fence around it. The roads never do cross over his grave, the way Mrs. Shimerda wanted, but Jim still visits the grave, moved by his memories of Mr. Shimerda.

Book I, Chapter XVI Analysis

Allusions

"Jesus, Lover of My Soul" by Charles Wesley. A hymn written in the 1700s. It asks that Jesus bring the singer's soul to him. By singing it at Mr. Shimerda's funeral, the mourners are effectively asking Jesus to take Mr. Shimerda to Heaven.

Motifs

Music. Otto has long been associated with music, and his singing often lightens the mood in scenes that might otherwise be very dark. In this chapter, the hymn Otto leads turns Mr. Shimerda's cold and dreary funeral into a communal expression of emotion.

Symbols

The Wooden Cross. The Shimerdas place this wooden cross over the site of Mr. Shimerda's grave. It's a symbol of the love people had for him. Whenever Jim sees it, he's flooded with emotion.

Book I, Chapter XVII Summary

Spring comes to Black Hawk, and with it, hope for the future. Jim enjoys the warm weather, and the Shimerdas prepare for the planting season. After Mr. Shimerda's death, the community came together to build the Shimerdas a log cabin, and Mrs. Shimerda bought a windmill on credit. The family is now ready to build a new life in America.

Antonia, meanwhile, has turned fifteen and become a strong young woman. She works very hard and takes care of the farm along with her brothers. Jim asks her if she'll start school with him, but she says no, because she has to help her family. She asks him to tell her about some of the things he learns in school. Jim fears that her work on the farm has stripped her of her kinder and gentler mannerisms. She thinks now only of money.

Book I, Chapter XVII Analysis

Simile

Jim uses a simile when he compares the wind to "a big puppy that pawed you and then lay down to be petted."

Themes

Education. Antonia knows that she must stay behind on the farm while Jim goes to school. She doesn't seem to begrudge him this, and even asks him to tell her about the things he learns there, but the reader can tell from her tone when she asks this and from the way she praises her father's education that she would like to go to school, as well. Unfortunately, Antonia's financial situation prevents her from doing so.

Money. Jim is disappointed when Antonia speaks of the prices of things and the value of her hard work. He feels that this is somewhat unbecoming of a young woman, and he, like the other men in the country, judges her because of it. This distaste might stem from the fact that Jim himself comes from a fairly well-off family and doesn't understand what it's like to be poor or have to work on the farm. He, of course, will be going to school that year.

Nature. Jim stresses the enormous vitality of spring after the cold and deadening winter. The new season brings with it the promise of prosperity and good health, especially for the Shimerdas, who buy a windmill on credit and move into the new log house their neighbors helped them build. Now that winter is over, life can begin.

Book I, Chapter XVIII Summary

Once school starts, Antonia and Jim drift apart. She starts treating him like a child, and he resents her for prizing her brother's opinions over his own. A feud breaks out between the Shimerdas and the Burdens when Ambrosch tries to kick Jake in a fight. Jake had come to collect a horse-collar he'd loaned out to the Shimerdas, and Ambrosch had returned it in such deplorable condition that Jake rightfully got mad at him. During the fight, Jake nearly breaks Ambrosch's nose. He pays a fine of ten dollars, which the Shimerdas assume he raised by selling his pig (in fact, Mr. Burden gave him the money to settle the matter once and for all).

Ambrosch and his little brother Marek go to work for Mr. Bushy for a week. While they're gone, one of the Shimerdas' horses falls ill, and Jim's grandfather feels obliged to help, unaware of the feud between Jim and the Shimerdas. Ambrosch returns, having used all of Marek's wages to pay a priest to pray for Mr. Shimerda's soul.

Jim's grandfather effectively ends the feud that summer. He needs a few more hired hands to help cut the wheat that July, so he rides up to the Shimerdas' house to offer Antonia and Ambrosch the job. When he arrives, Mrs. Shimerda assumes that he wants to take the cow he sold her. She tries to hide it, to no avail. Grandfather then tells her that she needn't pay the rest of the fifteen dollars for the cow. Mrs. Shimerda thanks him profusely and makes amends with Jake.

Book I, Chapter XVIII Analysis

Motifs

Color. Cather repeatedly uses color to describe the variations in the seasons. Whereas winter is associated with white and the frozen red of Mr. Shimerda's blood, spring brings with it yellow birds, purple flowers, and lush greenery, in addition to bright blue skies.

Themes

Work. This chapter makes it clear that the Shimerdas and the Burdens are from different socioeconomic classes. The Shimerdas are forced to work constantly in order to make ends meet, whereas Jim's grandfather has enough money to hire extra hands to help with the harvest. This economic divide often makes it difficult for the two families to understand one another.

Book I, Chapter XIX Summary

Summer comes, and with it the heat that makes the corn grow better in the plains than anywhere else in the United States. Jim and Antonia work in the fields, where they reconnect after months of feuding. Antonia tells Jim that she likes working outdoors like men and she doesn't care what other people think about her. He has it easy, she says. This is how Book I ends.

Book I, Chapter XIX Analysis

Similes

Jim uses a number of similes when he describes the sky as looking like "deep blue water" in one place and "like mottled pavement" in another.

Themes

Gender. Traditionally, women in the country don't work in the fields, but stay inside to do the household chores. Antonia eschews these gender roles and decides to work in the fields, despite what other people say about her. This is a fine example of her willfulness, which will, unfortunately, get her in trouble later in the novel.