My Antonia - Summary And Analysis Chapter XIV

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Chapter XIV Summary: After Commencement Jim begins studying Latin seriously for college. Only once during the summer does he take a break to go pick elders with the hired girls. Arriving at the river first and going swimming, he realizes he's going to miss Black Hawk and the country. The girls arrive when he's still in the water, and he gradually makes his way over to where they are. He comes up on Ántonia by herself and finds her crying because a certain type of flower is making her homesick. When she asks whether he thinks her father is back in the old country, Jim tells her how he felt her father's spirit in the house the day he died, and Ántonia feels better. She tells him how her father honorably married her mother, who was a servant, when she got pregnant and how her father's family never forgave the two of them.

Jim is happy because Ántonia seems exactly the same as she did when he first met her and he tells her he will one day visit her homeland.

Lena appears, looking like she does in Jim's sexual dreams, and he leaps up to help her pick elders. In the hot afternoon, they all sit around and talk. Ántonia becomes irritated when Lena behaves flirtatiously towards Jim. The girls discuss how it is difficult for older adults to make the transition to a new country and how difficult it is to be the oldest child when more babies keep arriving. They play a game called "Pussy Wants a Corner," and then Jim tells them about how Coronado the Spanish explorer came as far West as Black Hawk. As they sit in silence, the clouds disappear, and all of a sudden, they see a distant black figure on the horizon. Jumping up to see what it is, they realize that someone had left a plow standing in the field, and it looks molten red and glowing against the backdrop of the sun. The image only lasts for a moment as the sun continues to set.

Analysis: In the previous chapter Jim dedicates his commencement speech to Ántonia's father and calls the hug she gives him the most poignant moment in his life. In this chapter, he learns the story of the marriage of Ántonia's parents and promises to go visit her native village. In all these ways, Jim is becoming a part of the Shimerda family history and sharing Ántonia's past with her. While he is possibly just trying to become emotionally closer to Ántonia, he is also searching for the nuclear family that he never really had. While Jim did have his parents for ten years of his life and his grandparents after than, he never really had siblings or parents to guide him through the difficult years of his childhood. The Shimerdas are like his surrogate family, providing him with the rich cultural heritage and family scandals that were never a prominent part of his own life.

While Jim obviously loves Ántonia and considers himself emotionally and spiritually bonded to her, his feelings towards Lena are primarily sexual. He desires her sexually because though she is not Ántonia herself, she is very much like her. In addition, Ántonia seems beyond the realm of sexual desire, and her relations with Jim seem always chaste and innocent, though sometimes intense. Jim cannot think of Ántonia in a sexual light because she is more than just the beloved to him; she is a maternal, feminine presence in his life that cannot be limited simply to the role of lover.

The image of the plow has symbolic importance. It represents the shared past of Jim, Ántonia, and the other girls, but it is also a symbol for the future. At this point in time, right before many of them are going to leave Black Hawk and begin new lives, the plow is a reminder that the land that they grew up on will never really leave them and will always remain a part of them. A symbol of fertility and growth, the plow represents the past that created and nurtured them, as well as the new life that they themselves will create. Finally, the image of the plow is a legacy to them. Though they may leave their childhood farms, Jim, Ántonia, and the hired girls have a responsibility to the land to maintain and protect it.