Jim and Ántonia visit Peter to borrow a spade. On the way home, they decide to dig into the prairie-dog holes to see how deep they are. Jim is less comfortable in Ántonia's presence than usual—he feels that she's been acting superior to him because she's older. While they're digging, a rattlesnake attacks them. Jim acts quickly and kills the snake by hitting it with the spade. Ántonia is awed by this display of courage and brags about Jim's bravery when she gets home. She never again treats him as inferior.
This episode underscores the age and gender difference between Ántonia and Jim. Jim desperately wants the respect he feels he deserves as a man. When he and Ántonia are children, he can earn this respect through a simple display of courage. As they grow up, their age and gender differences won't be so easy to overcome.