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Free Study Guide-My Antonia by Willa Cather-Free Online Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

BOOK 2 - THE HIRED GIRLS

CHAPTER 8

Summary

Jim and the Harlings are thrilled with the spring. They are outside every day helping Mrs. Harling and Antonia plant the garden and maintain it. Jim writes that the summer that was to come would change everything, but that no one knew it the day the Vannis pull into town with their traveling dance company. They set up their tent in a vacant lot by the Danish laundry and children come for dance lessons during the day. They keep very good order with time and decorum. Every Saturday night they have a dance. The country boys come from the surrounding farms as do the country girls, including Antonia. The young men of the Progressive Euchre Club also come to the dances so they can dance with "the hired girls" despite the fact their girlfriends will be angry with them.

Notes

Chapter 8 opens with a foreshadowing that things will not last as they are for Jim and Antonia at present. The chapter, however, only sets up what is to come. In the story of the dance lessons given by the Vannis, the element that sets up the coming conflict is a class conflict. The boys and girls from middle class families dress up and take dancing lessons. The boys from poorer families- -"from the depot"--stand on the side and sell drinks making fun of the others in their new clothes. The older boys and girls also play out class conflict. The hired girls from town and the country boys and girls participate in the weekend dances at night. Sometimes the city boys from middle-class families come also, despite the fact that they have girlfriends.


CHAPTER 9

Summary

Jim describes the "curious social situation in Black Hawk" wherein all the middle class young men are attracted to the farm girls turned hired girls, but are unwilling to go against social norms to date them. Jim admires the hired girls for their help of their families still on the farm. He finds these girls more solid and more interesting than the newer generation of farm girls who never suffered the deprivations of being the first to colonize the prairie. They are extraordinarily different from city girls because of the custom of the time of confining women to the home. City girls stayed inside the house during the winters and the summers. They had few muscles and very few interests in life. Whereas the immigrants from Bohemian and Scandinavian countries would hire their daughters out when they faced hard times, the farmers of Pennsylvania and Virginia would do anything but let his daughter work outside the home in any capacity but a school teacher. The foreign farmers had strong family solidarity. The daughters would work outside the home until the farm was well established, then they moved back home, married neighboring farmers of like nationality, and became substantial farmers, often much more wealthy than their city counterparts who used to snub them socially.

Jim tries to tell his friends in the city of the respectable (middle class) background of the immigrants, but they donít care. They think "All foreigners are ignorant people who couldnít speak English." Jim is indignant that these people donít recognize the difference between someone of Antoniaís caliber and the three Bohemian Marys. These are girls who were hired out and became pregnant by their bosses, gave up the children, and moved to Black Hawk to keep working. The middle-class boys of Black Hawk were expected to marry girls of their own social class, live in white houses, "with best chairs that must not be sat upon, and hand-painted china that must not be used." Sometimes, however, one of these boys let his eye wander. "The country girls were considered a menace to the social order." Jim realizes now that these mothers need not have worried since their sonsí "respect for respectability" was too strong to let them marry farm girls.

At the Vannisí tent, the town boys and the country girls came together on neutral ground. One boy, Sylvester Lovett, becomes infatuated with Lena Lingard. He follows her about and even goes out to her farm to visit her when she goes to visit her family. Jim hoped Sylvester would marry Lena, but after "dallying" with her for a while, he begins to make mistakes in his accounts at the bank, and then he rushes off and marries a widow woman with land and thereafter never looks Lenaís way again.

Notes

Chapter nine gives an illustration of the class divisions of Black Hawk which the previous chapter outlines. It also gives Jim Burdenís senses of democratic disgust at the class bigotry of his fellow middle class citizens. The illustration is the story of Lena Lingard and Sylvester Lovett. Despite the fact that he falls in love with Lena, he wonít marry her since she is a farm girl and a foreigner. Jim finds these values reprehensible. He finds the country girls more substantial and more attractive than the city girls. The reader should remember that Jim is unhappily to married a "city girl" as he writes this narrative.

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