My Antonia

My Antonia

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Book 3, "Lena Lingard," is set in Lincoln, Nebraska where Jim
studies under the instruction of an admired scholar Gaston Cleric.
Lena Lingard moves to Lincoln to set up a tailoring business and
visits Jim. They start seeing each other regularly, going to the
theater, and spending Sunday mornings together. He enjoys her
company much more than that of the women of his own class who
are so interested in socializing that they seem to have no life in
them. Lena’s shop is very successful. She tells Jim she plans
never to marry, having seen enough of marriages to know that it is
not for her. She wants to be able to determine her own choices in
life. Her plan is to make enough money to set her mother and
younger siblings up in a comfortable house. From Lena, Jim hears
about Antonia’s boyfriend, Larry Donovan, a railroad conductor
who puts on airs above his status. No one likes Larry, but Antonia
will not hear anything bad said of him. One day, Gaston Cleric
comes to see Jim and tells him he will be teaching at Harvard. He
invites Jim to come with him. Jim reluctantly says good-bye to
Lena and then goes home for a visit before leaving.

Book 4, "The Pioneer Woman’s Story," takes place two years
later when Jim has finished his college courses and comes home
to visit before continuing on to law school. Antonia is now
twenty-four years old and has had a baby outside of marriage. Jim
is disgusted with her and doesn’t plan to go see her where she is
living with her family again. However, one day he is in the
photography shop and sees a large picture of Antonia’s baby. The
photographer says she is extremely proud of her baby. Jim decides
to go out and talk to the Widow Steavens, a woman who has been
renting his grandparents’ farm and who helped Antonia
throughout the preparations for her wedding and who helped her
after her child was born. Mrs. Steavens tells him that Antonia and
Larry Donovan got engaged and Antonia set to work on her linens
and her trousseau. She came to Mrs. Steavens’ house every day to
sew. Larry Donovan was in Denver working. He took a long time
to send for her and when he did he said they would be living in
Denver instead of Black Hawk.

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Although Antonia wasn’t happy
with this plan, she soon reconciled herself to it and set off for
Denver with three trunks full of good linens and clothes and three
hundred dollars from her brother. The family heard that she
arrived and then they didn’t hear anything else. Weeks later Mrs.
Steavens heard that Antonia had been seen returning home and
she went to see Antonia. Antonia told her Larry Donovan had
stayed with her until her money ran out and then abandoned her.
He had been fired from the railroad for cheating customers. In the
following months, Mrs. Steavens watched Antonia as she worked
in the fields. She noticed Antonia is pregnant and one night she
was called to come and help. Antonia had given birth without
help. She was ashamed of having had sex out of marriage but
proud of her baby. Jim decides to go see her. When he does, they
have the same strong connection they always did. They talk about
their lives and Jim tells her she means more to him that she could

Book 5, "Cusak’s Boys," begins twenty years later. Jim has
avoided seeing Antonia for fear that she has become old and run-
down. Lena Lingard, who has set up a successful tailoring
business in San Francisco, urges him to see Antonia. Antonia has
been married and has a large family. Jim arrives at Antonia’s
house and is impressed by her healthy, loving, and well-mannered
children. Antonia is clearly a very happy woman in touch with the
land and greatly enjoying raising her children. The next day,
Antonia’s husband, Cusak comes home. Jim likes him though he
finds him a small man, who doesn’t much belong on a farm. He
leaves the next day and re-visits Black Hawk. He finds nothing of
interest there since his friends are dead or gone, but he walks out
to the north of town along the same road that had taken him out to
his grandparents’ farm when he was a ten year old boy. Not much
of the red grass of the prairie is left elsewhere, but this land is so
wild that it has not been colonized and the beautiful red grass
remains. He feels happy to feel connected to the land again. He
plans to come back often and visit the Cusaks.

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