My Antonia

My Antonia


Willa Cather

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My Antonia: Book 1, Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Spring arrives, and the farmers set their pastures on fire so that new grass can be planted. Jim says that the lights of the fires seem to represent "the kindling that was in the air."
Though a destructive force, the fire will eventually bring new life. By destroying the past, the light of the fire symbolizes growth, hope, and change.
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The Shimerdas now have a new log house, which the Burdens and other neighbors helped them build. They also have a new windmill and chicken-house, and Jim's grandfather gave them a cow, to be paid for after the harvest. Mrs. Shimerda has also learned to speak more English.
The Shimerdas' new life mirrors the growth of the new harvest. Like the land, they must experience death, and cut their connection to the past, before they can experience growth.
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That spring, Ántonia turns 15, and Jim notices she is no longer a child. She has grown tan and strong while working in the fields beside Ambrosch. He asks Ántonia if she would like to start going to school with him, but she says proudly that she has to work now, "like mans." But when she looks over at the "streak of dying light" in the sky, she starts to cry.
Though Ántonia takes pride in working like a man, she still has her childhood desire to learn. She cries because she now has the mature understanding that family obligations will make her education impossible. Jim, whose family doesn't face the Shimerdas' struggles, doesn't realize this. The "dying light" symbolizes their friendship as their paths diverge—Ántonia's leads to work, and Jim's to school.
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