Parts XVII – XIX
Spring arrives, and the Shimerdas have built themselves (with help) a new log cabin. They have bought a cow from the Burdens, and paid for half of it. Mrs. Shimerda has taken to asking Jim questions about what his family plans to do with their crops, acting like she doesn’t trust his family to be honest with her. Ántonia has been put to work in the fields, and she is beginning to grow strong like a man. She competes with Jake and hopes to accomplish as much as Jake in a day. She has also given up on schooling, telling Jim that she is needed on the farm. But she seems sad about this sacrifice, and she cries after telling Jim about this and asks him to talk to her about what he has learned. She mentions her father again, telling Jim that he was well educated and a skilled musician.
Jim has dinner with the Shimerdas, and Mrs. Shimerda complains about the cow she has bought. Ambrosch mentions that he had been accused of breaking a saw. Jim says that he knew Ambrosch broke it, and that he was denying it. Jim also seems to get annoyed at the way that Ántonia eats like a man, too. He develops the habit of stopping to talk to her as she plows in the field, but she tends to only stop for a moment or two before returning to work.
Soon there is a disagreement between the Shimerdas and the Burdens. Jake and Jim ask Ambrosch to return a harness that he has borrowed, and he tries to return the wrong one. Jake and Ambrosch get into a fight, and Ántonia and Mrs. Shimerda come running to defend Ambrosch. Jake and Jim run back to the Burdens and tell Mr. Burden what happened. He tells Jake to take the horse into town as soon as possible, report the fight to the authorities, and pay the fine for starting the fight. As a convenience, Mr. Burden also asks him to bring a pig with him that they have been planning to sell.
Mrs. Shimerda takes Ambrosch to town the next day to file the complaint against Jake and to try to get him arrested. Since he has already paid his fine, no additional trouble can be made for him. But they find out about the pig that he sold, and they seem to think that they have forced him to sell the pig to pay the fine. Ántonia begins taunting them when they encounter her on the road.
Mr. Burden manages to remain neutral, and he continues to help the Shimerdas. He helps Ambrosch buy a team of horses, and he helps the Shimerdas with a sick horse. He also brings about an end to the “feud.” He decides to hire Ambrosch to help them harvest their wheat, and to hire Ántonia to help in the kitchen. He takes Jim over to the Shimerdas, and they find Mrs. Shimerda trying to hide the cow in a small cave. Mr. Burden tells Mrs. Shimerda that she doesn’t have to pay him the other half of the money that she owes him for the cow, and she rejoices. Later, he speculates to Jim that Mrs. Shimerda might have thought that he was coming to take back the cow.
Things seem to be working well with the Shimerdas, and Ántonia becomes very popular at the Burdens because of her liveliness. She and Jim are getting along well, and Jim asks why she can’t always be herself instead of trying to be like Ambrosch. At the Burden house, she says, things are easy. But they aren’t as easy for the Shimerdas.
Analysis, Parts XVII – XIX
The novel seems to darken a little in this section, and Ántonia’s fate starts to seem a little more uncertain. With the death of her father, her greatest protection against the selfishness of her brother and mother is gone. As a result, she is encouraged to work in the fields like a man and to give up her schooling. This bothers her, though she seems to reconcile herself to this fate most of the time. She also plays a role in the feud that seems unlike her—she taunts Jake for the pig sale.
It is not clear by the end of the section just how much Ántonia understands about her family. In the last lines, she suggests that her family has a harder life than the Burdens. This might mean that she understands that her brother and mother are making unreasonable and selfish demands of her. At the same time, she takes their side in the feud with Jake and Jim, despite everything that she knows about her brother and mother.