My Antonia Summary and Analysis
by Willa Cather
Book V Cuzak's Boys
After twenty years, Jim goes to visit Ántonia again. He had sent her pictures of Bohemia when he went to visit, and he had visited Tiny and Lena in San Francisco, who told him that Ántonia had remarried a Bohemian man named Anton Cuzak, had a hard life, and had about ten or eleven children. Jim was afraid to see the effects of twenty years on Ántonia but finally decides to go see her.
While walking up to Ántonia's house, he is greeted by a number of her children in succession, and right before meeting her, he feels terrified and nervous about seeing her. He recognizes her immediately, but she takes awhile to figure out who it is. When she does, however, she is very excited. She then introduces all her children to Jim. Her favorite is twelve-year-old, mischievous Leo, who was born on Easter. Jim finds that though Ántonia has lost some of her teeth, she is still full of life and energy.
Ántonia and all the children show Jim their cave full of all kinds of fruit and their orchard, full of trees that Ántonia and her husband Anton watered individually. Everything is peaceful, alive, vibrant, and harmonious. Ántonia tells Jim that she worked hard all her life to help her husband, who had no experience farming. She is happy in the country and never gets depressed the way she did in the city. She is glad she lived in the town because there she learned how to cook, keep house, and raise children.
Jim takes a walk with the two older boys, Ambrosch and Anton. He is impressed with how well-made and upright they are, and he tells them to always respect their mother because he used to be in love with her and knows how special she is. They tell him that their mother talks about him a lot. Afterwards, there is a lively and pleasant supper, followed by musical performances by the children. Then they all look at old photographs, and Jim realizes that Ántonia's relationship with her children is very much like her relationship with him and the Harling children years ago. Ántonia provides stories and entertainment.
Jim goes to sleep in the haymow with two of the boys. As he lies awake, he sees a succession of images of Ántonia and realizes that "she lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true." She "reveals[s] the meaning in common things," and Jim thinks of her as "a rich mine of life, like the founders of early races."
In this chapter Jim sees Ántonia in her ultimate incarnation as an earth mother, the bringer of new life. Everywhere life surrounds her: in her innumerable children, in the plethora of fruits and trees surrounding the house, in the myriad of farm animals running around, and in the playful interactions of her and her children. Expecting to see a tired, worn-out woman, Jim is surprised at how energetic and full of life Ántonia is among her brood of children. Instead of draining her energies, her children seem to feed it, and their enthusiasm is contagious as Jim discovers firsthand.
Jim admires all of Ántonia's children, and the strong, manly boys in particular. Ántonia is not raising a gaggle of uncontrollable children; instead, Jim sees her as the mother of a new race of people who love the land, each other, and life itself. As Jim realizes as he falls asleep, Ántonia captures universal human attitudes in herself and brings them out in other people: she is Woman, and though she may not be the most financially successful person, she is the richest in life and love. After pitying Ántonia for so long for not making more of herself, he realizes that she has achieved her ultimate destiny and is repaying the land, which nurtured her in her youth, with new life, her own innumerable offspring. Jim realizes that Ántonia has achieved a success much more lasting than Tiny's or Lena's.
Though Jim is not physically present during twenty years of Ántonia s life, he is very much present in her imagination and those of her children. It is obvious that Ántonia talks about him a lot to her children and that she cherishes his memory. Similarly, Jim holds Ántonia's memory dear, which is paradoxically why he puts off seeing her for so long. Jim and Ántonia have an emotional attachment that stretches across time and distance and which guarantees that their story will never really end. They continue to exert an influence on each other, though their actual physical interaction is actually quite limited. For this reason, the story of Jim's life is also the story of Ántonia's.
When Jim wakes up, he secretly watches Leo, who seems to have a devil-may-care attitude about everything. After breakfast, Ántonia tells him how sad she was when her oldest daughter Martha got married and had to move away, and then her husband arrives from his little holiday in town. "Papa" looks worn, yet lively, and he starts talking about the street fair that he went to. Jim observes the pair and finds their relations to be very friendly, with Ántonia being "the impulse, and he the corrective." Cuzak bestows little gifts on his children, who he seems to find amusing and nice. Ántonia and Cuzak talk about the Bohemian news, and Cuzak interrogates Jim about the singer Maria Vasak after he finds out that Jim has seen her perform.
During dinner Rudolph tells Jim the story of what happened to the Cutters. Apparently, Wick Cutter shriveled up as he got older, while his wife got a nervous palsy that made her shake all the time. They continued to fight about inheritance, especially because Nebraska had recently passed a law guaranteeing a woman a third of her husband's property. One day Wick Cutter bought a pistol and began shooting at targets in the yard. One day a gunshot is heard, and the neighbors rush into the house to find Mrs. Cutter shot through the heart and Wick Cutter shot through the neck, but still momentarily alive. He confesses that he killed his wife but states that he is still alive and conscious. Later, the coroner finds a letter saying that he shot his wife and that since he survived her, any will she made is invalid. Apparently, his fortune amounted to a hundred thousand dollars.
After dinner Jim and Cuzak go take a walk, and Cuzak tells Jim how he came to America and decided to marry Ántonia. He admits that it has been hard work on the farm and that he often misses city life and gets lonely. However, he says that Ántonia has such a warm heart and that he can also have fun with his older sons. When they return to the house, Cuzak comments about how he can't believe he has lived in America for twenty-six years already.
In this chapter Jim is able to meet Cuzak and spend some time with him. A lot of the chapter is simply spent with Jim observing how the family interacts with each other. For the first time, Jim witnesses a scene of complete domestic and marital harmony. While Lena, Tiny, and himself forgo marriage in favor of independence, Ántonia seems to have found a relationship based on equality and mutual respect. Her marriage is far different from the Harlings', in which Mrs. Harling was forced to minister to her husband's needs. Ántonia and her husband play with their children and have an easy camaraderie with each other. Ántonia helps with the farmingthe work that made her feel strong and independent as a young girland she lets her husband go off to the city sometimes when he misses town life.
The Cutter story emphasizes what a peaceful and idyllic situation Cuzak and Ántonia have. The Cutters represent the extreme of marital discord and unhappiness, and the fact that their marriage ends tragically gives hope that the one between Cuzak and Ántonia will last for a long time. The symbolic irony of the Cutters' last name is apparent in the retelling of their story.
The next day Jim says goodbye to Ántonia and all her children. Leo and Ambrosch run ahead to open the gate, and Leo disappears before Jim can say goodbye. Ambrosch explains that he's either sad that Jim's leaving or jealous of his mother's affection. Jim is sad to leave Ambrosch, who is very manly, and he promises to come next year to go hunting with him and Rudolph.
Jim spends a disappointing day in Black Hawk. He doesn't know anyone there anymore, so he spends the day talking to Anton Jelinek and then to an old lawyer friend about the Cutters. Only when he takes a walk outside of town does he feel completely at home with the sky, the prairie vegetation, and the cornfields. He plans to spend a lot of time with the Cuzak boys and is glad that there are a lot of them, including Cuzak himself. While walking, he happens to come upon the first road north out of Black Hawkthe road that went to his grandfather's farm and the Shimerdas'. The road is barely visible and has been plowed under everywhere else. Jim remembers that this is the road that he and Ántonia took after being on the train that took them both to Black Hawk for the first time, and he can suddenly remember very specific physical sensations of being on the train. He feels like he is coming home to himself, that his life has run in a circle back to the beginning, and he thinks the road has been one to Destiny, both for himself and for Ántonia. He knows that the road will bring Ántonia and him together again, and he feels no regret for what might have been because they both still have the past.
Jim plans to spend a lot of time playing with Ántonia's sons and Cuzak. Why does he only want to spend time with the boys and not with the girls? This section is titled "Cuzak's Boys," not "Cuzak's Children." In an earlier chapter, Jim tells Ántonia that he wishes she could have been "a sweetheart, or a wife, or my mother or my sisteranything that a woman can be to a man." If Ántonia fills all these roles in Jim's life, then in a sense, he is one of her boys too. He is included in the title of "Cuzak's Boys," and in wanting to play only with Ántonia's sons, he is imagining himself as part of that group of children.
The novel concludes when Jim finds the old dirt road that went to his grandparents' farm and realizes that he has come full circle. Though Jim has followed other paths in life, he once again returns to the land and to Ántonia. The old dirt road brings him back to Ántonia, the earth mother, and once again he becomes her little boy.
My Antonia Essays and Related Content
- My Antonia: Essays
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- My Antonia: Questions
- My Antonia: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Willa Cather: Biography
- My Antonia Summary
- About My Antonia
- Character List
- Summary and Analysis of Introduction
- Summary and Analysis of Book I, Chapters 1-10
- Summary and Analysis of Book I, Chapters 11-19
- Summary and Analysis of Book II, Chapters 1-9
- Summary and Analysis of Book II, Chapters 10-15
- Summary and Analysis of Book III
- Summary and Analysis of Book IV
- Summary and Analysis of Book V
- Biography of Willa Cather
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