My Antonia Chapters 9-15 Summary and Analysis

Willa Cather

Chapters 9-15 Summary and Analysis

Book II, Chapter IX Summary

Jim notes that country girls aren't always treated with the respect they deserve in Black Hawk. In most cases, these country girls have come into town to help their families pay off the initial debts they incurred upon moving to America. Jim finds this very admirable, and knows that these girls will go on to marry other debt-free immigrants and manage big farms of their own. And yet, the girls work as servants in town and are treated as such.

Mothers in Black Hawk worry that their sons will be tempted by "hired girls" like Lena and Tiny and that they'll embarrass the family by having an affair or wishing to marry one of these country girls. Of course, this will never happen, because Black Hawk boys have been raised to prize their honor and social station over their carnal desires.

The three Marys become notorious for engaging in scandalous affairs. They have a reputation for tempting married men and having illegitimate children, and yet they're such good cooks that they always manage to find jobs. Meanwhile, a young banker named Sylvester Lovett falls head over heels in love with Lena and starts making mistakes at work. Desperate to take his mind off Lena, he married a widow and settles into a respectable life.

Book II, Chapter IX Analysis

Themes

Society. Never has the social stratification in Black Hawk been more apparent than in this chapter, where Jim discusses the unfair treatment Antonia and the other "hired girls" get from the townsfolk. To Jim, these girls are hardworking, strong, beautiful people who will go on to own successful farms and businesses, but to his more condescending counterparts, these hired girls are objects of desire unworthy of their respect. This divide prevents the two groups from understanding each other.

Book II, Chapter X Summary

Soon after Antonia starts attending the dances, she gains a reputation like Lena's. She's known to dance with many men a night and to allow one or another of them to walk her home every night. She becomes so obsessed with the dances that her work suffers, and Lena must come to help her with her work. One night, a man named Harry Paine kisses Antonia, and she slaps him, because he's engaged to be married the next Monday.

Mr. Harling happens to hear the slap. He tells Antonia that her behavior is unacceptable and that she's to stop attending the dances immediately. Antonia rebels, declaring that he has no authority over her private life, and that if she won't let her go out with her friends, then she'll find another job. She goes to work for the Cutters, in spite of Wick Cutter's reputation as a moneylender.

Book II, Chapter X Analysis

Symbols

Broken Dishes. When Antonia allows her social life to interfere with her work, she starts accidentally breaking a lot of dishes. These dishes are symbols of her dissatisfaction with her position as a servant.

Themes

Gender. It should be abundantly clear to readers by now that women in Black Hawk are held to different standards than men. Whereas the girls at the dances are considered "loose" and "wild," the boys these girls date aren't, and their reputations aren't destroyed by their actions. In fact, many of the men are described merely as being crazy in love, as if they've fallen victim to Antonia or Lena's beauty. This is a double-standard that does more harm than good.

Popularity. What Mr. Harling calls being "free" and "easy" is more appropriately called being "popular," and it's this popularity that gets Antonia and the other "hired girls" into trouble. This is a symptom of the double-standard that chastises women for behavior for which men are never penalized.

Book II, Chapter XI Summary

Jim introduces readers to Wick Cutter, the town moneylender. Cutter grew up in Iowa, where he learned a little Swedish from the settlers there. He was thus able to take advantage of the earlier Scandinavian settlers in Black Hawk and make himself a fortune. He married a gray, terrifying, mean-spirited woman, and they settled into a life of anger and bickering. Cutter frequently took up with his servants and drove them to prostitution.

Of the many things about which the Cutters bicker, perhaps the most important is the question of inheritance. Since they have no children, Mrs. Cutter stands to inherit Mr. Cutter's fortune, but he refuses to allow this. He threatens to chop down their cedar trees, and she threatens to leave him. And yet they stay together. They seem to enjoy their fights.

Book II, Chapter XI Analysis

Allusions

Poor Richard's Almanack. An almanack published yearly from 1732 to 1758 by renowned statesman and scientist Benjamin Franklin. Franklin adopted the pseudonym Poor Richard for this almanack, which included small facts about the calendar, the weather, and astronomy, in addition to collections of Franklin's many proverbs and aphorisms. Wick Cutter quotes some of these aphorisms to Jim to indicate that he's a man of culture.

Themes

Marriage. Marriage had been variously represented as a happy union of like-minded people, a happenstance with no real meaning, a means of securing one's finances, and a bitter struggle for dominance. To the citizens of Black Hawk, the Cutters' marriage appears both laughable and horrifying, and Jim regards it with both curiosity and distaste.

Book II, Chapter XII Summary

Antonia starts working for the Cutters. She makes more money for less work and spends most of her afternoons downtown with Lena and Tiny. Sometimes, Jim takes them out for ice cream, and he asks for news about their families. After the Vannis leave town, the dances move indoors, but Jim stops attending. He's shut out of one of the two saloons in town when the proprietor, Anton Jelinek, says Jim's grandfather wouldn't like Jim to hang out in there. So Jim searches for other forms of entertainment that winter.

Eventually, Jim caves in and starts attending the Saturday night dances at the Firemen's Hall. He sneaks out of the house and joins Antonia and her friends. Jim characterizes all of them in turn: the four Danish girls are "kind, simple girls" who work in the laundry; Lena dances as if every song is a waltz; and Tony dances as if every song is a new adventure.

Antonia starts dating a passenger conductor named Larry Donovan. He's something of a cad, and Jim doesn't think their relationship will last. One night when Larry is away, Jim walks Antonia to Cutter's house and asks her to give him a goodnight kiss. Antonia tells him it isn't right for him to kiss her on the lips, then advises him not to fool around with the other girls, especially Lena. She goes inside, and he sneaks back into his house. He dreams that they'll be together one day, but he knows this will never happen. She doesn't love him that way.

Book II, Chapter XII Analysis

Alliteration

Jim uses alliteration when he says he wishes that he and Tony were in the country, "sliding down straw-stacks" as they used to.

Themes

Love. Though Jim has never explicitly said so, it becomes clear in this chapter that he loves Antonia as more than a friend. This was likely the source of his irritation in Book I, Chapter XVIII, when he complained that Antonia was treating him like a child. In this chapter, his love is thwarted when Antonia tells him he shouldn't kiss her on the lips. Antonia will never love him the way he loves her.

Maturity. When Jim and Antonia were children, their age difference was little more than a source of benign irritation. Here, it means the difference between being a schoolboy and being sexually mature. In effect, Jim and Antonia's age difference precludes the possibility of them ever being romantically involved.

Book II, Chapter XIII Summary

One day, Jim notices that his grandmother has been crying. She tells him that his sneaking out to the Firemen's Hall has caused some gossip, and she's afraid that he's growing up to be a bad boy. He promises not to attend any more dances and consequently grows very bored. He gives a good Commencement speech, of which Antonia is very proud.

Book II, Chapter XIII Analysis

Repetition

Jim describes the country girls' growing "smaller and smaller" as they walked, using repetition to emphasize the fact that they're moving away from him, both literally and figuratively.

Themes

Education. Without the distraction of the dances at the Firemen's Hall, Jim has abundant free time in which to study for his college exams. He starts reading Latin, prepares his Commencement speech, and prepares to leave Black Hawk early. His education gives him opportunities that Antonia and the other country girls don't have. Anna even says, "It must make you very happy, Jim, to have fine thoughts like that in your head all the time." Her wistfulness and envy characterize most of the country girls, who wish for better lives.

Family. Jim's grandparents have been secondary figures in his life for the last several chapters, and their relative absence has allowed Jim to mature and enjoy a certain level of freedom. That freedom, however, has driven Jim and his grandparents apart. Only after Jim's grandmother cries are they able to bridge some of the gap between them.

Book II, Chapter XIV Summary

Jim moves his desk upstairs, where he spends the summer studying trigonometry and Latin. One day, Antonia invites him to collect elder down by the river with the other country girls. He thinks of this as his one vacation. He heads down early and goes for a swim. While he's swimming, the girls drive up in a wagon. He joins them in the sandy bottoms where the elder grows.

Antonia sits down to think about her father. Jim tells her about feeling her father's presence in the house on the day they found his body. She finds this very comforting and wishes Jim had told her about it sooner. She tells him about her grandmother and how she never let Antonia's mother into her house. Jim expresses a desire to visit Bohemia, and Antonia reminisces about her town.

Lena sees them sitting down and chides them for being lazy. Together, they pick the elders clean, then walk up to the chalk bluffs to have lunch in the breeze. There, they talk about their families, who have had to work hard in the country. Tiny has six siblings, all of whom think that she's rich because she wears nice clothes and brings them toys for Christmas. Tiny and the girls all admire Selma Kronn, a Scandinavian girl who has recently become a teacher.

After lunch, the group plays a game, and Jim tells them about Francisco Vázquez de Coronado y Luján, a Spanish explorer who searched for the Seven Golden Cities. Coronado led an expedition from Mexico through Kansas, and someone in his party evidently left a sword behind near Black Hawk's river. During this discussion, the sun starts setting. It's a lovely, golden sunset, and when the sun reaches the horizon, a plough appears silhouetted in front of it.

Book II, Chapter XIV Analysis

Allusions

Aeneid by Virgil. Virgil's epic Latin poem about the hero Aeneas, the Aeneid is broken into two parts of six books each. In the first part, Aeneas and his fleet land in Carthage, where Queen Dido falls in love with Aeneas. In the second part, Virgil tells the story of how Aeneas defeated the Italians and fulfilled his destiny. Jim reads the Aeneid to prepare for college.

Francisco Vázquez de Coronado y Luján (1510 - 1554) and the Seven Golden Cities. Coronado, as he's referred to in the novel, was a Spanish conquistador and explorer. He dreamed of finding the Cities of Cíbola, also known as the Seven Cities of Gold, a mythical place rumored to be located in the pueblos of New Mexico. Coronado led an expedition from Mexico to Kansas in search of the Seven Golden Cities. His expedition was a failure, of course, but Antonia and her friends are nevertheless excited by the idea of Spanish explorers in Black Hawk.

Motifs

Colors. Gold traditionally represents wealth and luxury, and that's especially true in this chapter. Spanish explorer Coronado was looking for the Seven Golden Cities when, according to Jim and Antonia, he led his exposition through Black Hawk. These Cities of Gold are like El Dorado in that they're mythical places of wealth and grandeur and were, of course, never found. The color gold appears at the end of the chapter, as the sun sets brilliantly behind a plough. Cather uses this image, along with the color gold, to suggest that this prairie is a kind of paradise.

Symbols

Plough. When the sun sets, it casts the plough in perfect silhouette. This plough represents all the manual labor that the country girls aren't doing, thanks to their positions as servants in town. As such, the plough is a symbol of work (and, in this case, its absence).

Seven Golden Cities. These Seven Cities of Gold symbolize wealth, paradise, and the pursuit of one's dreams. That the Spanish expedition never realizes its dream of finding the Seven Golden Cities may indicate that the country girls (all foreigners, like the explorers) will never find happiness. However, Cather's use of the color gold during the sunset scene suggests that Jim, at least, has found his paradise in the prairie.

Themes

Nature. Unlike the country girls, who think of the prairie as a place of toil and hardship, Jim views it as a kind of paradise. In previous chapters, Jim had an almost religious experience with nature, which reinforces the idea that he views the prairie as a kind of paradise.

Book II, Chapter XV Summary

In August, the Cutters leave town for a few days. Before they leave, Cutter gives Antonia a series of suspiciously specific instructions about keeping his possessions safe. He tells her to stay home alone and not to go out at night. Antonia rightfully finds all this strange and talks to the Burdens about it. Jim agrees to sleep at the Cutters' house in Antonia's place.

One night, Cutter returns alone and sits down on Antonia's bed, not realizing at first that Jim has been sleeping in it. He makes a sexual advance, then grabs Jim by the throat when he realizes he has made a mistake. The men scuffle, and Jim escapes. He runs back home, where he falls asleep in his bloodied nightshirt. His grandmother treats his wounds the next morning.

Jim's grandmother accompanies Antonia to the Cutters' house, where Antonia packs her trunk. In his drunken fury, Cutter had thrown all her clothes onto the floor, and her room was in shambles. While Antonia's packing, Mrs. Cutter returns and is forced to knock to get in, because Mr. Cutter hasn't given her the key to the new lock he installed before they left. Evidently, Cutter tricked his wife into going all the way to Kansas City just so he could get home a day ahead of her and take advantage of Antonia. This will lead to a huge fight.

Book II, Chapter XV Analysis

Assonance

Cather uses assonance when she writes that Jim's lip "stood out like a snout."

Symbols

The Yale Lock. This Yale lock would normally be installed to keep someone or something safe. However, Cutter subverts the traditional use of the lock in order to keep Antonia in and keep his wife out. He does this in the hopes of taking advantage of Antonia, but also to exert his control over the women in his life. The Yale Lock thus becomes a symbol of Cutter's power.