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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 14

Summary

After his graduation, Jim moves his room upstairs so he can study in earnest without being disturbed. He studies Latin and trigonometry. He becomes friends with Mrs. Harling again, and she champions his case with his grandparents. They worry that he is too young to go off to college alone and she contends that he will do well. Since Mr. Burden respects her so much, Jim is sure he will go.

He takes only one holiday that summer. Antonia invites him to come along with her and the others for picking elder for making elderblow wine. That Sunday morning, he goes to meet them. On the way he passes the river. It is very full after midsummer rains. He is early, so he decides to go in for a swim. He realizes suddenly that he will be homesick for this river when he goes away. After his swim, he hears their wagon approaching and joins them. While they pick the elder berries, he wanders around among the brush drowsy with contentment. He comes upon Antonia and finds that she has been crying. She tells him she is homesick for her homeland. She says she remembers sitting and listening to her father talk with his friend the most beautiful talk about music and the woods and God. She wonders if her fatherís spirit has ever made it back home. He tells her of his strong feeling of that on the night of her fatherís death. This thought comforts her.


Antonia tells Jim of her father in the old country where he came from a middle-class family. He got her mother pregnant and decided against his family and friendsí wishes to marry her. Her grandmother had refused to let her mother come back into the house after that. When Antonia went to her grandmotherís funeral, it was her first time in that house. As Antonia is telling him these stories, Jim thinks she is just like she was as a little girl when she would talk to him. He tells her that some day he will go to her home country to see the woods they have described. He wonders if she would remember the place and she assures him that she certainly would.

They are interrupted by Lena who is furiously picking the flowers above them. At noon they stop for work and sit around talking about the troubles their families experienced in immigrating to the Midwest. Tiny says her mother is much happier now that her father has started growing rye so she can have rye bread. Lena says her own mother had lived in the city as a girl and must have suffered greatly in coming out to the prairie. Anna says her grandmother has become senile and thinks she is back in the old country. She craves fish every day. The women then talk of all the things they want to buy their families. They hate the fact that all their money has to go to farm equipment when their mothers and siblings are going without clothes, shoes, or toys.

Lena talks about moving to another town and setting up a shop of her own so she can build her mother a house. Anna wishes she could teach school like Selma Kronn, a Scandinavian woman who has become the first one to get a position in the school as a teacher. Anna says Selmaís father was from a wealthy family. Lena says her own maternal grandfather was too. Then her paternal grandfather married a Lapp, a member of a minority ethnic group, and was disowned from his family.

That afternoon, they play a game and then lie down on the grass to rest. Antonia tells Jim to tell the others about the Spanish who explored in this territory. He tells them about Coronado who came in search of the Seven Golden Cities. The schoolbooks say he didnít get as far north as Nebraska, but people have found a sword with a Spanish inscription on it and several other Spanish relics in the area. The women wonder why Coronado didnít go back home to enjoy his riches. The books only say that he died of a broken heart in the wilderness. Antonia says, "More than him has done that," and the others agree. They sit there watching the sunset. Suddenly they see a large black object in the sunset. They realize itís an old plow that looks larger against the setting sun. It is in the dead center of the sun and looks magnified. "There it was, heroic in size, a picture writing in the sun." As they watch, the sun sets and the plow diminishes in size "s[inks] back to its own littleness somewhere on the prairie."

Notes

Chapter 14 is a very significant chapter in the novel for its description of the life of the immigrants and the history of the Midwest at least as far back as Coronado, the Spanish explorer who was searching for the Seven Golden Cities. Perhaps the most interesting element of the chapter is that it lets the hired women speak for themselves. In previous chapters, they are described by Jim, but rarely quoted by him. Here, when they speak, they acquire a history and social ties that they havenít had before in the narrative. Antonia talks about her longing for her homeland, her fatherís intellectual talks with visitors, her sense of it as home. Lena talks about her maternal grandfatherís high social status and his paternal grandfather marrying a Lapp, a member of a minority ethnic group, and thereafter being disowned from his family. The cultural specificity of the hired women is much more drawn out in this chapter.

CHAPTER 15

Summary

In August, the Cutters go to Omaha and leave Antonia to take care of the house. She comes to the Burdens with stories of how Mr. Cutter had put his silver and some important papers under her bed and told her not to go out on any night during his absence. She is so nervous that Mrs. Burden suggests that Jim should sleep in her bed in her place and she should stay at the Burdens. One night while Jim is asleep, he hears someone come in the house and then feels someoneís hand on his shoulder and whiskered face on his own face. He jumps up and the light comes one. Wick Cutter beats him severely assuming that Antonia has had a lover in her room.

He goes home in his night shirt and falls asleep. The next morning, his grandmother finds him and cries over his severely bruised body. He is horribly ashamed and wonít let anyone but his grandmother come near him. She and Antonia go back to the Cutters to get Antoniaís things. While theyíre there, Mrs. Cutter arrives home. She says she and Mr. Cutter were at the train station in Waymore and Mr. Cutter told her he must stay at the bank to attend some business and sent her on the next train. After it departed, she realized it was headed for Kansas City rather than Black Hawk and she had to wait until she got there to turn around and come home. Jim realizes Mr. Cutter could have found a number of ways to get back to Antonia without his wife, ways that wouldnít have so humiliated her. He concludes that Mr. Cutter gets his pleasure out of being regarded as devilish by his wife.

Notes

Book 2 ends with the bizarre story of Wick Cutterís convoluted design to make his wife rage with impotence and his attempt to rape Antonia. The focus is on Jim, however, and his sense of shame at being in Antoniaís bed when Wick Cutter returned home with the intention of raping her. Itís clear that late twentieth- century ideas about rape in the U.S. are much different from those of the early twentieth century. The narrator is more interested in describing the dysfunction of the Cutterís marriage than in dealing with the shocking fact that hired women were subject to such violence on their employersí part and that Antonia escaped by chance from being raped.

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