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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
BOOK 1 - THE SHIMERDAS
Jimís party reaches his grandparentís farm at dawn, but he is fast asleep and later wakes in a small bedroom. Hs grandmother is with him. She has been crying, but she smiles when she sees him wake up and helps him with his new clothes. She takes him to the kitchen, located in the basement, and readies his bath for him. He feels content in the bathtub. He notices his grandmotherís features. She is tall and thin, forward leaning as if always rushing into the future. She speaks anxiously because she is always "desirous that everything should go with due order and decorum." She is fifty-five years old. After his bath, he explores the cellar and then the men come in from work.
His grandfather only acknowledges him and speaks kindly to him. He feels deep awe for his grandfather, who seems to have a great "deliberateness and personal dignity." At the table, Jim is especially fascinated with Otto Fuchs. He learns that Ottoís is Austrian and lived in the "Far West" leading an adventurous life. When he contracted pneumonia, he lost his good health and returned eastward where life is easier. He has family in Bismark, a German settlement to the north. He has worked for Jimís grandparents for a year. After dinner he goes outside with Otto who tells him a pony has been bought for him. He shows Jim his chaps and his boots, which are stitched with fancy designs.
Before bed, they are all called to the living room for prayers. Jim is quite taken with his grandfatherís sonorous voice as he reads several of the Psalms. He reads, "He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob whom He loved. Selah." Early the next morning, Jim runs outside to look around. He notices especially the ocean of red tall grass: "It seemed as if the grass were about to run over [the box elder trees], and over the plum- patch behind the sod chicken-house." He thinks of the grass as to the country like water is to the sea. He feels a great deal of motion in the grass, as if the country is running.
His grandmother comes out with a gunnysack and asks him to walk with her to the garden. She tells him to notice a stick she has hanging from her belt used for killing rattlesnakes. Jim, the present writer, remembers vividly what the land looked like that day when he was ten years old. It seemed as if it the landscape were in motion, as if underneath the grass, there were herds of wild buffalo running. After helping his grandmother pick potatoes out of the ground, he asks her if he can stay on in the garden alone. He says heís afraid of snakes, but still wants to stay. She advises him about the good snakes, the bull snakes who help keep the gopher population down and tells him not to worry when he sees the badger peep at him out of its hole. She says one becomes protective of the creatures of the earth when living out on the prairie like she has. Jim sits in the middle of the garden, leaning against a pumpkin and feels perfectly happy. He begins to feel as if he were "something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want anything more." He decides this must be the feeling one has after death, being part of something entire.
In chapter two, we are introduced to Jim Burdenís grandparents. They are both given full descriptions in admiring tones. His first association is with his grandmother, who is his primary caretaker at home. She is a woman who will clearly give him the space he needs to grow and who will teach him to respect the earth and its creatures.
At the end of chapter two, the reader encounters the second of Jim Burdenís death wishes. At the end of chapter one, he feels as if he would be happy if he could keep traveling into the nothingness of the Nebraska night. He lets go his usual method of coping with the future--prayer--and decides to give himself over to his fate. In this chapter, as he sits in the garden, and begins to feel at one with the world. He thinks this must be what it feels like in death: "Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great." The reader probably remembers that Jim has just lost both of his parents. His relatives in Virginia sent him to a strange land to live with his grandparents, whom he doesnít seem to have known before now. He must feel alone and sad. Cather doesnít express his emotions directly, but does so in the indirect method of describing his feelings about his connection to the land and the world. He wants to go to an ego-less place, where he is a one with the world. That is death, but it isnít a frightening thought for him. Instead it is pure happiness.