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The novel is dates back to an Iowa summer. The narrator is reminiscing back of a trip he encountered with a friend named Jim Burden in which he grew up with in a quaint Nebraska town. He goes on to the fact of talking about his childhood on the prairie, and stating how "Ironic it was that they both ended up in New York City (5)". He then comments on the fact that they don't see each other much. The narrator also states that" Jim is always away on business a lot" and that in a way it's good in a sense that he really doesn't care for his wife much anyhow. While discussing his train trip with each and every topic, the narrator and his friend Jim seem to end up with them discussing over a young girl named Antonia. Antonia is a girl whom he has lost in touch with over the years. Jim was also a friend who knew Antonia. Jim mentions to the narrator that he kept a so called diary about Antonia. (12) After a few months later, the narrator and Jim share a portfolio that Jim has develop about the life of Antonia and her family. The portfolio read "My Antonia" across the front of it(11).
This story then recalls a time of Jim at ten years old, lost both of his parents while making a trip from Virginia to stay with his grandparents in Black Hawk, Nebraska. Jim only being ten at the time was traveling with a farm hand known as Jake Marpole who was not much more in age than Jim but knew a little more of the world than Jim did. While on the train a conductor openly expresses to Jim that an immigrant family who is also on board is also traveling to Black Hawk Nebraska. They are known as the Shimerdas, a Bohemian family that doesn't speak any English except for one of their children known as Antonia, who is 14. The train finally reaches Black Hawk. Jim and Jake get off the train only to meet up with Otto Fuchs, who is one of the Burdens (Jim's grandfather) hired hand. As the boys set off with Mr. Fuchs, Jim notices that the Shimerdas are setting off as well, he notices Antonia. Mr. Fuchs, Jake and Jim enter a covered wagon and Jim is a little timid of the Nebraskan landscape of being so void. He eventually falls asleep, while the wagon continues its journey. The next day while arriving at the farm, Mrs. Burden, Jim's grandmother is happy to see him and then draws him a bath. Afterwards, Jim takes the rest of the day to explore his surroundings. While at supper Jake discusses his hometown in Virginia with the Burdens. The evening draws to a close with family prayers.(26) The next morning, Jim has an invitation to pick potatoes with his grandmother, but decides to reluctantly sit back in a pumpkin patch instead. Sunday morning begins with a trip to see the new neighbors, the Shimerdas. Jim's grandmother Mrs. Burden makes a statement to her grandson on the fact that the Shimerdas were taken advantage of by being overcharge for their farmhouse, and also the fact that it was not well insulated for the harsh Nebraska winters. Also, Mrs. Burden has made some fresh bread for her new Bohemian neighbors. While caught up in conversation with the Shimerdas and Mrs. Burden [Jim and Antonia decide to run off and play in the tall green grass with Antonia's little sister Yulka traveling behind.] Jim and Antonia begin to connect well and Jim starts to teach Antonia some English. Antonia's father hears her daughter and asked Mrs. Burden if she will teach Antonia the English language. As the day wears on Jim takes his first pony ride. This will be one of many rides Jim will be fond of taking. As he rides, the landscape imagines remind him of Mr. Fuchs story of the sunflowers that filled the land that sprang from the seed of the Mormons on the journey to Utah.
Jim loves the fact that he gets to ride his pony 2 times a week to the post office. Sometimes just riding about to nowhere just to see the pretty landscape that Nebraska has to offer, relaxes his mind. Of course Antonia always travels with him at his side learning what English she could. On one autumn afternoon, Jim and Antonia visit her parents and the Shimerdas have favored him immediately. They meet up with Peter, a Russian immigrant that gives them a sack of cucumbers and a milk pail. They also encounter Mr. Shimerda who just caught three rabbits for his evening dinner. [The rabbit's fur will make an excellent winter hat for Antonia.] (31) One day Jim and Antonia take a trip on his pony to see Peter to ask him to borrow a spade so Ambrosch,who is Antonia's brother can use it. On the way home, they spot a group of prairie-dog holes. Suddenly, Antonia sees an enormous snake and cries out loudly, which causes the snake to go in their direction. She sees a snake which is shape like a "W" screams at Jim in her own language. Jim turning about sees the snake, gathers his thoughts and wits and uses a spade to kill it.
Jim is a little upset at Antonia for not speaking in English about the presence of the snake, but forgives her. They take the dead snake home to as a trophy of Jim's bravery. The size length and age of the snake around 24 years, impresses Jim's family and Antonia takes great pleasure from relating the story. The Russians: Peter and Pavel, are having a tough time making ends meet. Peter finds himself over his head in debt to a money shark that's known as Wick Cutter. In the meantime, Peter has had a bad injury from a fall.(42) He arrives at the Burdens' to ask the Shimerdas, who are there, for their assistance. Jim decides to go with Antonia and her father to the Russians' farm. They arrive after nightfall only to find Pavel lying on the ground. A while ago when Peter and Pavel were residing in Russia, they attended a winter wedding party between a friend and a girl from a township that was close by. The story goes like this: On the way home from the wedding, a bunch of wolves attacked the party while in their sledges. Everyone died, with the exception of Pavel and Peter, who were driving the sledges that held the married couple. In a panicked effort to go quicker, Pavel had thrown the couple off the sledge to the wolves accidentally! Oh my God! The humility of this accident actually drove Pavel and Peter from their hometown and eventually from their homeland Russia. The recollection of horror that evening played in their heads and in their hearts for both Pavel and Peter, for many years. Then Pavel ends up dying, days after Antonia and Jim's visit. Peter sells all that he has and decides to leave America.(58) This makes Mr. Shimerda realizes that he had lost the only friends he had made in this country. Pavel's story continues to reminisce in Antonia and Jim's lives well after Pavel is gone. At the first snowfall, Otto Fuchs begins to build a sleigh for Jim. After it is fully tested, Jim sets out to give Antonia and her sister a ride. The girls dress is unprepared for the cold weather, while Jim gives offers some of his heavy clothing to them keeps warm. As a result, Jim is exposed to the cold air and ends up in bed for two weeks with an infection (a severe tonsil disease).(69) Mrs. Burden brings gifts which are a rooster and food basket to the Shimerdas. As they approach the Shimerda farm, Jim spots Antonia pumping water, but she sees him and runs back to the house. When Mrs. Shimerda welcomes the Burdens' she is crying. The Shimerdas have had very little food stored up for the winter months and much of what they do have is garbage. Then Jake brings in the gift basket of food, Mrs. Shimerda begins to cry louder! Mr. Shimerda explains that they were not street people in Bohemia, but that some unexpected turns and bad judgment have left them almost no money. While Mrs. Burden begins to comfort the Shimerdas,while Jim plays with Antonia's sisters little kitten. As the Burdens begin to leave, Mrs. Shimerda gives a gift basket of food to Mrs. Burden. On the ride home, Jake and Mrs. Burden talk about the Shimerdas' dilemma.(77) Later while making supper, Mrs. Burden discards the gift basket of food. Though he is not really certain what the food is, Jim breaks off a small piece anyway and begins to nibble on it.
The holidays are near, Christmas to be exact. Just before Christmas, a big snowfall blankets the earth. This puts Jake in the mood to do some gift shopping tagging along side the Burdens. With the snow getting heavier the Burdens realizes that the roads are not fit for travel, that being said everyone begins to make homemade Christmas presents. Jim begins working on a project of picture books for Antonia and her little sister ,while Mrs. Burden bakes holiday gingerbread cookies. She decides to bring some cookies to the Shimerdas, In the mean time, Jake brings back a small Christmas tree, which the family begins to decorate on Christmas Eve. The next day, Christmas day The Burdens sit down for their Christmas dinner and Mr. Burden leads the family in prayer. Afterwards, there awaits a meal of waffles and sausage. Jake makes mention that the Shimerdas were very surprised and happy to receive gifts Christmas from the Burdens. (81)
New Year's Day, starts with a thaw that has turned the snow into slush water. Mrs. Shimerda and Antonia decide to pay a visit to the Burdens. Jim and Antonia have a big fight about the Shimerdas' attitude.
January settles in the New Year. A brush of mild weather continues until later in the month. The family celebrates Jim's 11th birthday, with a huge snowstorm that blankets the countryside and brings a halt to all work on the farm . The next morning also turned out to be a blizzard. Jim is awaked only to find his grandfather telling him that Mr. Shimerda has died. Ambrosch Shimerda was sitting by herself on a nearby bench; the Burdens discuss the suicide of Mr. Shimerda while eating breakfast. Jake tells a story of Krajiek's strange behavior around Mr. Shimerda's body and points out that Krajiek's axe landed in perfect formation on the gash in Mr. Shimerda's face. Otto and Mrs. Burden talk with Krajiek and don't believe it happen this way. After dinner, Otto goes out to find the priest and coroner from Black Hawk. They begin to plow the road for a trip to the Shimerdas. Jim sadly stays behind and wants to be alone.(112) He begins his chores, and asked himself "why did Mr. Shimerda's decide to take his life". At sundown, the wagon returns, and Jake describes to Jim on what happen at the Shimerdas'. On the next day, Otto returns from his trip from Black Hawk with a young Bohemian man who's named Anton Jelinek. At supper time, Jelinek explains how they were unsuccessful in finding a priest to lay Mr. Shimerda to rest. Otto begins to make a coffin. That afternoon, the local people of the township stop at the Burdens' to find out exactly what had happened to Mr. Shimerdas. The coroner begins to prepare Mr. Shimerda's body. The local postmaster explains to the Burdens that none of the gravesites in this area will allow Mr. Shimerda because he committed suicide. Mrs. Burden, upset and confused screams out in anger at this unfairness. With no one to turn to for help, the Shimerdas decide that they will bury Mr. Shimerda on their property. Mr. Shimerda body lay in the barn for four days until he was finally buried on his own land.
Another snowfall emerges, but that doesn't not stop the neighbors and friends from coming from miles around to attend Mr. Shimerda's funeral . Mrs. Shimerda's asks Mr. Burden to say a prayer in English for her husband. Afterward Otto leads the congregation in a hymn. The story changes to springtime. The Shimerdas are in need to build a new log cabin home on their property. The neighbors assemble to help out. As time passes on they eventually receive a new windmill and livestock. On one afternoon, Jim asks Antonia if she she's interested in attending the upcoming term at the schoolhouse. Antonia refuses, saying that she is too busy on the farm with work, but she begins to cry revealing her true feelings about the matter. Jim is asked to stay at the Shimerdas' for dinner, but he's offended by their injustice over the neighbor's charity and by Antonia's apparent manners with everything happening.
Early fall sets in and, Jim sees less of Antonia, and soon after tension builds between them. Meanwhile, Jake and Jim take a trip over to the Shimerdas' to get back a horse collar that "was on loan". At first Ambrosch first denies ever taking it, then hands over a badly marred and damaged collar to them. After an exchange of mixed words, Jake gets a hold of Ambrosch, who then kicks him in the gut. Jake then with his fists pounds Ambrosch on his skull. Jake and Jim run away from the Shimerdas' and Mrs. Shimerda goes after them screaming about sending the authorities.(159) Mr. Burden quickly learns of the incident; decides to sends Jake into town with a ten dollar bill to pay a fine for Jakes actions.
The coming next few weeks, the Shimerdas are happy in showing their gratitude seeing the Burdens in passing, while maintaining respect for Mr. Burden. Mr. Burden begins to arrange a meeting of reconciliation by employing Ambrosch to help with his wheat threshing job and also offering Antonia a job in helping Mrs. Burden with the kitchen chores. Mr. Burden also forgives Mrs. Shimerdas debt on the cow she purchased from him. In an effort to show her own forgiveness, Mrs. Shimerda presents a present to Jake; a pair of socks.
In the middle of the summer, Jim and Antonia begin to spend more time with each other. They meet up at the garden every morning to pick vegetables for supper. On one occasion, during a rain storm, Antonia and Jim climb on top of the roof of the hen house to watch the sky only to be called down for supper. Antonia explains to Jim that things are hard for her family right now.
It's been three years after his move to Black Hawk, Jim and his grandparents make a decision to leave their farm in the countryside for a house on the edge of town. Currently out of work, Otto decides to head out west in search of employment, and Jake decides to tag along. Before venturing out, they help the Burdens with them moving also.(237) One particular Sunday morning, they board a train, never to see Jim again.
Mr. Burden finally finds a job as a deacon at the Baptist church in Black Hawk, and Mrs. Burden helps arranges the church's social calendar. Jim starts attending the local school in town and quickly makes friends with his new classmates. Jim asks Ambrosch if he heard anything about Antonia whenever Ambrosch in town, but Ambrosch doesn't say much. The Burdens' newest neighbors are the Harlings, a Norwegian family who also had a farm at one time. The Harlings have four children. Three of the Harlings' children are around Jim's age, and their older sister, Frances, works in Mr. Harling's office. In August, the Harlings' cook leaves them, and Mrs. Burden convinces them to hire Antonia. Because of her warm personality and easy going way, Antonia feels right at home among the Harling family, and she soon settles into a regular routine.
The next day a visitor calls for Antonia at the Harlings home. Lena Lingard a local girl, has announced that she has found work in town, as a dressmaker. The Harlings all welcome Lena, but Antonia turn a cold shoulder. Jim, thinking back to the stories he has heard of Lena, relates her entanglement with a neighboring farmer, Ole Benson, who became so smitten with Lena that his jealous wife attacked her. Jim runs into Lena often while in town. He assists her in shopping for fabric and they trade stories about life in the small town of Black Hawk.
Just before another Christmas, Jim happens to see Lena and her brother shopping for Christmas presents for their mom. Lena makes a suggestion to her brother to get her monogrammed handkerchiefs. Hearing this reminds Jim of how much he really misses his family. As winter descends, Jim turns to various indoor amusements, playing at charades and dress-up and dancing with Antonia and the Harlings in the evenings. Antonia tells the Harlings a story about a man who, for no apparent reason, dove into a threshing machine and killed himself. The story upsets Nina Harling, but the memories of threshing time make Mrs. Harling homesick for the country.
March rolls around, and snow is still blanketing the countryside a new person arrives named Samson d'Arnault,: a black piano man. Jim makes a trip to the Boys Home, where Mr. d'Arnault and his manager are staying.(261) He enters the stage to find a full house listening to music and talking away. Mr. d'Arnault plays in a concert . Lena, and two of her friends dance.
The men all begin to clap for the girl's rehearsal. The girls waltz into the parlor and join the party, dancing until Mr. d'Arnault's manager slams the lid on the piano. After the party breaks up, Jim and Antonia walk home together. After a very long winter spring arrives, and Antonia Jim, and the Harling children spend their days outside playing in the garden and in the trees.
In June, new families called the Vannis, which are Italian, arrive as dancers and offer lessons. The outside stage is the center of the town coming alive, especially on Saturday nights, when the dancing goes through most of the night. Jim decides to make a statement that claims that all the boys have a crush on the country girls who came to Black Hawk as working girls. But because of the towns social rules for this sort of thing, none of the boys feels comfortable dating a working girl. Jim sees this as an opportunity on his part. Jim finds the girls more interesting than the boys do and he begins to spend time with them, despite of what the people think .
As time passes, Antonia's attention focus on the pavilion and thoughts of dancing fills her mind in her waking hours. Trouble begins when a boy who is engaged attempts to kiss Antonia on the Harlings' porch. Although Antonia pushes him away, Mr. Harling presents her with a decision:[ she must quit dancing or look for work elsewhere]. Indignant, Antonia decides to take her chances on her own and goes to work for Wick Cutter, the local scum moneylender. Upset and distraught, Mrs. Harling tells Antonia not to speak to her speak if she is to work for the Cutters. Antonia keeping her decision leaves the Harlings.
Most people don't care for the Cutters much, and are a detested by the the community: [Wick Cutter is a devious moneylender who makes his money by manipulating farmers into accepting unwise loans, and Mrs. Cutter is a hideous shrew.] The Cutters, constantly are arguing with each other, and they seem to make arguments throughout the town. Once Antonia settles in with the Cutters, she spends most of her time and energy on her new social affairs.(288) She makes her own outfits and shows them off around town with Lena and the other working girls.
Jim is now a senior at school and feels he has the freedom to travel about with them. Vannis leaves town, and then a group called the Owl Club begins to hold dances at the Masonic Hall on Tuesdays, but Jim doesn't join. Jim being jealous of the older girls; he begins to grow impatient at the thought of being stuck in school, and so leaves to go to a local bar. Jim is restless to find an out instead of the bar, he attends the Saturday night dances at the Fire Hall.(291)
One night, after a night of dancing, Jim walks Antonia back to the Cutters residence. When a kiss goes a little farther than Antonia expects, she screams at him for his boldness. Jim rather pleased at himself, walks home with Antonia in his heart . When he arrives home, he notices that his grandmother has been crying. She has learned that he was at the Fire Hall dances, and she is ashamed because he lied to her . The next day at his high school commencement, Jim gives a speech and the crowd receives wonderfully. Antonia congratulates him and is moved to tears when he declares that he dedicated his speech to her father. Jim is thrilled with his success.
The story goes on with Jim attending Harvard and Antonia is pregnant She is not happy of being with child, deserted on the brink of marriage, Antonia retreats to her past in the face of an undesirable present. Her labor is slow and intermittent for, as she says to the Widow Stevens, [If I start to work, I look around and forget to go on. It seems such a little while ago when Jim Burden and I were playing all over this country.]" [To the romantic, a specific place becomes invested with the quality of an emotion felt at a specific time, and such a mind is slow to disassociate such remembrances in a changing situation.] Antonia prefers to live in the past and is fully aware of her denial of the reality of the present; despite the fact that her father is long since dead], Antonia tells Jim that her father "is more real to me than almost anybody else."
[What brings both Antonia and Jim to an acceptance of change is their ability to come to terms with their own nostalgia. Rather than denying or feeling guilty about their yearnings to recapture and relive the old times, they indulge themselves by reminiscing. Thus, while their exteriors may shift radically, their interiors are constant and unchanging. This interior steadfastness gives them repose in the face of an unstable environment. Upon returning home for the summer before he enters law school, Jim sees the world changing, but he doesn't mind because what is truly important to him-the memories-remain the same.]