Summary and Analysis
begins the novel. He sayshe grew up with
, the story’s protagonist, inNebraska. Now they both live in New York, but do notsee each other oten. Jim is a lawyer or a railroad andtravels oten. Jim is married, the narrator says, butdoes not get along well with his wie, who leads herown lie as a socialite, independent o Jim.
The introduction is a “frame” that presents the novel as aseries of memories from Jim’spoint of view. The frame alsointroduces Jim as a practical and successful lawyer who lackslove and connection in his life.
says he ran into
again last summeron a train in Iowa. Jim kept bringing up
, animmigrant Bohemian girl whom they knew in Nebraskawhen they were young. Months later, Jim brings thenarrator a manuscript he has written, called
.But in the narrator’s oce Jim changes the title to
, which is the story that ollows.
The narrator reveals that Jim
is actually a romantic gurewho can’t let go of his past. Jim
places the word “my” before Ántonia’s name because al-
though his portrayal of Ántonia
may not be accurate, it is theway he remembers her.
, the novel’s narrator andprotagonist, begins his story on a train rom Virginia’sBlue Ridge Mountains to Black Hawk, Nebraska.He is traveling with
, a slightly older“mountain boy” who worked on Jim’s ather’s arm.Jim’s parents have recently died, and Jim and Jake aremoving West to live with
Jim is like an immigrant, moving
from the more developed and mountainous “old country” of
Virginia to the unfamiliar, at
“new land” of the Nebraskaprairie. His parents’ deathsforce him out of the childhood he knows.
During the journey, the conductor mentions to
that in the “immigrant car” ahead o him there isa European amily rom “across the water.” In theamily, a bright young girl is chattering in brokenEnglish about Black Hawk. The conductor says she isthe only one in the amily who knows any English. Jimlater recognizes this girl as
Ántonia’s excited chattering
reveals her youthful fearlessnessand spunk. Her ability to speak
English shows she’s a quicklearner. The scene suggests that
she’ll be able to adapt to thenew country more easily thanthe rest of her family.
The train arrives in Black Hawk at night. As
exit the train, Jim sees what must be the amily,huddled on the platorm, the youngest girl clinging toher mother’s skirt.
The darkness reects the fam
ily’s and Jim’s anxiety. Thoughtheir heritages differ, they’re all strangers in a new land.
hired man, meetsthe boys at the station in a wagon to bring themto Jim’s grandparents’ arm. Beore he alls asleepduring the ride to his grandparents arm,
or the rst time. He eels “blottedout” by the wide-open spaces and the huge opensky unobstructed by mountains. He wonders i thespirits o his parents will be able to nd him here, butdecides not to say his prayers that night because heeels that “what would be would be.”
Jim at rst feels overwhelmed
by the vast and unfamiliar prairie landscape. But hisdecision not to pray shows he
already has a feeling that on
the prairie, nature seems totake the proper course. In asense, he surrenders himself tothe prairie.
wakes him the ollowingaternoon. He is conused by the layout o thehouse, with the living room and bedrooms on theground foor and the kitchen and dining room in thebasement. Still, he is comorted by his grandmother’swarmth and aection, and by the smells o supper.
Jim’s confusion in the house
shows his continued foreignness
to the prairie and prairie life.Yet it’s also clear to him already
that his grandparents will offer
him familial support, and thathe’ll be comfortable here.
his grandparents have bought him apony, and tells Jim he will show him how to rope asteer the next day. When Jim’s
comeshome, he calls Jake, Otto, and Jim or prayers andthen reads them several Psalms. Jim is awed by hisgrandather’s “sympathetic” voice, and the quietdignity and wisdom with which he reads.
Jim’s life won’t just be
comfortable—it’ll be exciting. After one day he gets a pony
and learns to rope steers! The
way Jim’s grandfather reads the
Psalms establishes him as kind,
wise, pious, and virtuous, though
also a bit distant.
The next morning,
explores the arm and sees thewindmill, cornelds, and pig-yards. He learns that hisgrandparents’ house is the only wooden house in thearea. The others are made o sod. His
takes him to the garden to dig potatoes. He stays atershe leaves and he lies in the garden under the
. Herealizes that he eels “entirely happy.”
The Burdens’ wooden housereveals that they are more
wealthy than their immigrantneighbors. Jim’s transition toprairie life is quick—as the im
age of him lying in the garden
under the sun implies, healready feels a part of the land.
to bring bread and provisions to theimmigrant amily they met on the train—their newneighbors, the
. Jim’s grandmother tellshim that another o their neighbors,
, adistant relative o Mrs. Shimerda, sold the Shimerda’shis homestead, but badly overcharged them or ahouse that can barely withstand the harsh Nebraskawinters. Jim also learns that in the “old country”
had been a tapestry weaver and a ddler,but is now old and rail.
Here it becomes clear that Jim’snew life on the prairie will differ
greatly from the Shimerdas’ life.
Jim lives in a comfortable houseand is taken care of. In contrast,
the Shimerdas live in a housenot t for the prairie winter,and lack the skills, language,and knowledge needed to build
a better life. The friendship and
support of their neighbors will
be key to their survival.
When they arrive at the
’ home, they nda sod “cave” dug out among rough red hills. Theymeet the Shimerdas and their children,
,the eldest son,
, the pretty middle child, and
, the youngest. Jim notices how Ántonia hascheeks that “glow” and eyes “
like the sun
has sot white hands and a ace “likeashes.”
Mr. Shimerda’s soft handssuggest he’s not accustomed
to hard outdoor farm labor. Jim
associates Ántonia with lightand compares Mr. Shimerdato ashes—Mr. Shimerda rep
-resents the past, while Ántoniarepresents the future.
As the adults talk and
complainsabout the poorly built home they have purchased,
go outside. Ántonia takes Jim to thecreek and asks him to teach her the words or “bluesky” and “eyes.” When they arrive back at the dugout,
, in broken English, begs Jim to teachÁntonia the language.
Ántonia’s desire to go outside
shows that, like Jim, she hascome to love the landscape.They build a pure friendshipbased on their love of the land.
In her desire to learn English, Ántonia shows her eagerness to
adapt to her new life.
The color-coded bars in
Summary and Analysis
make it easy to track the themes through thework. Each color corresponds to one o the themes explained in the
section. For in-stance, a bar o indicates that all six themes apply to that part o the summary.
The prairie symbolizes many things in
To im-migrants, the vast size o the
suggests both the op-portunity or a new lie and the overwhelming ear that goeswith trying to create a new lie. The prairie also symbolizesprogress and a lost past: as the prairie is developed, its old,windy roads are replaced by straight ones, and the tall grassesare burned down to make room or armland. Later, when Jimleaves Nebraska, the prairie symbolizes Jim’s riendship withÁntonia and his nostalgia or his childhood.
Mr. Shimerda’s Grave
dies, he is buried in the prairie on whatlater becomes a crossroads.
says o his
, “inall that country it was the spot most dear to me” becausewhen all o the land has been cleared or arming, this “island”where two roads meet is the only place where the tall prairiegrass still grows undisturbed. The gravesite is a remnant o theprairie in its purest orm, and it symbolizes Ántonia’s and Jim’slonging or the past.
, a symbol o the arm work the
do on the
symbolizes man’s “beautiuland harmonious” connection to the land. At the end o Book2, beore
leaves Black Hawk or college, he sees a ploughsilhouetted in the circle o the red sun setting behind it. The skyquickly grows dark, and the plough disappears rom view. Thisimage suggests Jim’s impending separation rom
—while Ántonia remains on the prairie, Jim leaves or good. Thechange also oreshadows the changes that the developmento arming will infict on the natural prairie landscape.
, light symbolizes change. A vivid description o light preaces every major change that occurs in the novel.When
, or example, he describes herglowing cheeks and her eyes as “like the sun”, and or the resto their lives, he associates her with warmth and vigor. One o his most vivid memories o Ántonia is reading with her “in themagical light o the late aternoon.” In contrast, at end o Book1—as Jim’s and Ántonia’s childhoods on the prairie come to anend—the two riends sit on the roo and watch the lightningo a loud and “electric” thunderstorm. At the end o the novel,ater Jim leaves Ántonia or the last time, he stands alone onthe prairie roads in “the slanting sunlight” and refects on the“incommunicable” past he shared with Ántonia.
Symbols are shown in
text whenever they appear in the
Summary and Analysis
sections o this LitChart.