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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
Jim finds only the hired girls to be of interest and begins to develop a reputation as a strange young man since he is uninterested in spending time with boys and girls of his own social class. He is bored and feels out of place in the town. He develops friendships with various people in the town, many of whom are like him in their inability to fit into the social life of the town. He begins going to the Firemenís dances, sneaking out so he doesnít have to deal with his grandparentsí disapproval. Antonia comes to the Burdens one day with the news that the Cutters have gone on a trip and Mr. Cutter had acted strangely before he left, instructing Antonia never to leave the house at night. She is uncomfortable in the house, so Jim stays there in her place. He is mortified one night when Wick Cutter comes home with the obvious intention of raping Antonia. Cutter beats Jim severely. The next day, Antonia and Mrs. Burden go to the Cutters to retrieve Antoniaís things. While they are there, Mrs. Cutter arrives home. She tells them that Mr. Cutter had sent her on a train in the wrong direction the night before so he could get away and come home alone.
Jimís enjoyment of the Firemenís dances are cut short one day when he finds his grandmother crying over the shame it brings on the family name. He vows not to go to the dances any more. He settles down to studying for college and wins back the respect of his elders. One day he goes on an outing with the hired women. He and Antonia have a good talk. She tells him of their life in Bohemia. Her father came from a respectable family. Her mother worked in their kitchen. When her father got her mother pregnant, he married her, and his family disowned him as a result. Jim graduates from high school and gives a commencement address that impresses his elders. He plans to go to Lincoln, Nebraska to college.
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. Lenaís 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 Antoniaís 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 Womanís 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 doesnít 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 Antoniaís 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 grandparentsí 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. Steavensí 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. Although Antonia wasnít 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 didnít 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 know.
Book 5, "Cusakís 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 Antoniaís 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, Antoniaís husband, Cusak comes home. Jim likes him though he finds him a small man, who doesnít 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 grandparentsí 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.