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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 5 - CUZAK'S BOYS

CHAPTER 1

Summary

Jim takes twenty years to return to Antonia for a visit. He hears of her over the years, that she married a Bohemian immigrant and that they were poor and had a large family. One time when he was abroad, he visited Bohemia and sent Antonia pictures of her native village from Prague. Later, he got a letter from her telling him of her children but of nothing much else. Tiny Soderball had a very low opinion of Antonia. Jim admits that it was probably cowardice that kept him from seeing Antonia all those years. He dreaded seeing her "aged and broken."

Lena Lingard finally convinces him to go see Antonia again. Tiny and Lena live very close to each other and have settled into their lives together. Lena tells him Cusak, Antonia’s husband, is a good man and that Antonia has good children and would love to show them to Jim. On his way back East, he stops in Nebraska to see Antonia. He gets to her house and finds two boys standing over a dead dog. They are very sad, but tell him politely how to get to the house. When he gets to the house, an older girl greets him and asks him in. Before he sits down Antonia comes in. For Jim it is a miracle, "one of those quiet moments that clutch the heart, and take more courage than the noisy, excited passages in life." Antonia is older and she doesn’t recognize him. As he looks at her, the changes in her grow less and he sees the same light in her eyes.


When she finds out who he is, she beams at him and then rushes around to show him all her children. They are eleven. They sit and talk and then the children want to show him their fruit cellar. It is full of all kinds of preserved fruit and vegetables. It is clear that the family is very proud of it. On their way back to the house, they stop off at the orchard. Antonia tells him of how she planted all the trees and cared for them as if they were children. Jim finds the "deepest peace in the orchard." The orchard and the yard around the house are full of animals and farm birds. Antonia tells Jim she has been happy since she’s lived in the country, but she’s glad she lived in town for a time because it taught her good housekeeping habits and good manners to pass along to her children.

Jim notices how well mannered and good looking all of Antonia’s children are and how much they love and admire her. He goes out with two of her two sons to milk cows. He tells them how much everyone admired their mother and how pretty she was as a girl. They say they already know this. He tells them he was very much in love with their mother at the time. At supper, the table is full to overflowing. The dinner is run in good order with older children watching out for the manners and needs of younger children. After dinner, they all stand around while Antonia shows Jim her picture albums. One of the pictures is of him with Jake and Otto. Jim notices that the group standing around Antonia shares a "kind of physical harmony." They seem to know all of Antonia’s stories of childhood and girlhood with great familiarity.

That night, Jim sleeps in the barn with two of Antonia’s sons. After they go to sleep, he looks out the window looking at the moon and thinking of Antonia. He thinks of how Antonia always seems to leave images in the mind and then he passes over all his vivid images of her throughout life. "She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true." Despite her aged appearance now, Antonia still has the power of life in her. "She was a rich mine of life, like the founders of early races."

Notes

In this unusually long chapter, Cather gives full description to the mature Antonia. This character is still part myth--earth mother-- and part fully rounded character. Jim’s inability to make himself go see Antonia for twenty years reveals his own need of her for his personal moral landscape. For Jim, Antonia is symbolic of his childhood, particularly, his childhood on the prairie. Therefore it is no surprise that he has a great deal of difficulty overcoming his resistance to seeing her when he has heard that she is married to a poor farmer and has eleven children. Jim’s warm images of Antonia, however, are allowed to remain in tact. Transformed into a mother, Antonia in her present state doesn’t disrupt Jim’s sense of his childhood. Even in his sleeping position, out in the barn with two of her sons, Jim gets to return to childhood as if he had never left it. Antonia’s connection to food and growing things is an important part of her depiction as an earth mother. She is surrounded by food at every point, from her fruit cellar to her kitchen table. Her communion with the land, in her orchard and in her garden, is intense. Jim, who has left the land for the successes of the big city, is fortunate in being able to return and enjoy the bliss of country life without its pains.

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