What happens in My Antonia?

In My Antonia, Jim Burden tells the story of his friendship with Antonia. Her family emigrated to Black Hawk, Nebraska from Bohemia. Their friendship survives Jim's long absences from home and reminds him fondly of his youth.

  • Jim, an orphan, goes to live with his grandparents in Nebraska around the same time that Antonia's large family moves from Bohemia. They become friends, despite their different financial, social, and familial situations.

  • In their teenage years, Antonia gets a job as a maid in town and starts going out to parties. She gets in trouble when a young man impregnates her and then refuses to marry her.

  • Jim leaves Black Hawk to attend law school. Years later, he returns to visit Antonia, who has gotten married, had several children, and settled down on a farm.

Download My Antonia Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Summary

Book I

My Antonia is narrated by Jim Burden, a young white man who in the course of the novel goes to college, leaves his home of Black Hawk, Nebraska, and later becomes a lawyer. He tells the story of the titular character, Antonia Shimerda, the eldest daughter of a family of Bohemians living in a little farm community to the west of Black Hawk. Jim, who is orphaned at the beginning of the novel and sent to live with his grandparents, spends most of his childhood playing with Antonia, his neighbor, whom he teaches to read.

Jim and Antonia also spend time with Peter, one of the two Russians who live nearby and work a small farm with chickens on it. When Peter's friend Pavel grows ill, Jim and Antonia finally hear the story of how, when they lived in Russia, their sledge was run down by wolves, and everyone in their caravan was killed. Peter and Pavel fled Russia in shame. Unable to support themselves, they fall into debt in Nebraska and lose their farm. Jim and Antonia never see them again.

In January, Mr. Shimerda kills himself after a long battle with homesickness. His family, Antonia included, must fend for themselves. Upon moving into a new log cabin their neighbors helped to build (the Shimerdas were living in a roomy cave before), the mother buys a windmill on credit, preparing herself for the long planting and harvesting seasons. Meanwhile, Jim starts going to the country school and sees less of Antonia. Mostly, they spend time together in the summer.

Book II

Jim relates how he and his grandparents move from the farm to Black Hawk and transition from being farm people to town people . Their neighbors the Harlings have a small farm of their own, and Jim regularly spends time with the Harling children. Most of their country friends stop in to visit on their way to and from various destinations. Antonia visits often and becomes a servant to the Harlings. One day, their friend Lena Lingard, who grew up in a Norwegian settlement, comes to town. Soon, everyone settles into a routine.

Ostensibly, this book of the novel is about servants, and after Jim tells about Antonia becoming a servant, he introduces readers to a blind piano player named Samson who plays at...

(The entire section is 1,392 words.)