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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
BOOK 1 - THE SHIMERDAS
On Sunday morning, Otto Fuchs drives Jim and his grandmother to the Shimerdas to take them some provisions. On the way, Jimís grandmother tells him the Shimerdas have been cheated by their countrymen, Peter Krajiek, who sold them the land and livestock and some equipment for scandalous prices. When they get to the Shimerdasí house, Mrs. Shimerda and her youngest daughter, Julka, rush out to greet them with profuse thanks. Jim is not impressed with Ambroz, the eldest son, and is disturbed by the other son of the family, who seems to be retarded. As the adults are talking, Antonia pulls Jim aside and they run to the grass to play and talk. She asks him his name and the names of things she sees. She is eager to learn English. When they are called back to the house, Jim meets Antoniaís father who treats him with respect he is not used to as a child and who asks Mrs. Burden earnestly to teach Antonia English.
Here is the first full introduction of Antonia and her family. The occasion is a neighborly visit in which Mrs. Burden brings the Shimerdas food. Since the purpose of the visit includes charity, and since the chapter closes on Mr. Shimerda earnestly asking Mrs. Burden to teach Antonia English, the novel frames the relationship between Jim Burden and Antonia in this patronly (patronizing) light. The Shimerdas are described with mixed feelings. Mrs. Shimerda is a eager for the company and polite in her profuse thanks for the food, but the family is described as snapping at the food as if they were animals. The elder brother is described as sly and suspicious, the next elder brother is depicted as slightly threatening in his handicap. Mr. Shimerda is described as a very kind and dignified man who is clearly out of place trying to settle a farm in the mid-west. Antoniaís description is more fulsome, of course. She is eager to learn and quick to learn, and she is too generous for her own good.
On the same Sunday that Jim visited the Shimerdas with his grandmother, he learned the ride his horse, Dude, and from that day on, he rode to the post-office twice a week to pick up mail for the family and he also rode to neighboring farms on errands, saving Otto Fuchs a good deal of time. Even though it has been many years since he was ten and spent his first Autumn on the prairie, Jim Burden still remembers it vividly. "The new country lay open before me." Since there are not fences, he can choose any route. The roads are all lined with sunflowers. Otto Fuchs told him the Mormons propagated the seeds to pave the way for their followers to go out west to escape religious persecution. Since then, Jim has heard that it is not a true story, but he likes to think itís true. He thinks of the sun-flower-bordered roads as paths to freedom.
He often visits a patch of trees as do many of the settlers, trees being so rare that they are visited as if they were people. He and Antonia spent a great deal of time together. They watched the owls that make their home in the earth and the dogs who share their homes with the owls. Otto Fuchs thinks the dogs have subterranean water, but Antonia thinks they get water from the dew on the grass. Jim notes that Antonia has an opinion about everything. She comes to join him for lessons every day. Her mother isnít happy about it, but realizes they need one member of the family who can speak English. Antonia also likes to cook with Mrs. Burden and learn housekeeping habits. The Burdens try not to, but still disapprove of Mrs. Shimerdaís poor cooking and cleaning habits. At first, the Shimerdas never go to town because they are told by Krajiek that they will be swindled there. He sleeps with them and they feed him. Jim thinks itís like the prairie dogs and owls letting the rattlesnakes sleep in their caves: they donít know how to get rid of him.
Jim quickly adjusts to his new home. Having acquired a pony, he quickly learns to ride it, and he seems to have no trouble finding his way around the countryside. He becomes an asset to his grandparentsí farm as he takes on the new function of the messenger, saving the men time for leisure. In sharp contrast, the Shimerdas have a terrible time getting along. While it is clear to the reader that the reasons for their difficulties are many, the form of the novel encourages a disparaging comparison between the two parties who arrived in Black Hawk at the same time. Jim learns the ropes almost immediately. His family is industrious and wise in their use of resources. The Shimerdas have no reliable and honest contacts in their new home and are therefore at the mercy of Krajiek, who swindles them. They donít know how to clean house, how to cook, or how to avoid being swindled. While the narrator allows many reasons for their lack of success, there also seems to be an underlying sense of superiority. In order to rescue Antonia for romantic uses to which he puts her in his life, Jim Burden separates her from her family. Unlike them, she is eager to learn English, she is eager to learn good housekeeping skills from Mrs. Burden, and she is eager to spend time with Jim.