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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
BOOK 2 - THE HIRED GIRLS
One day Jim notices his grandmother has been crying. When he asks her the matter, she says she has heard talk about him. He apologizes for sneaking out of the house to go to the dances and promises that he will do it no longer. After that he decides to study Latin so he can enter college in the fall with no requirements hanging over him. He wants to leave town as soon as possible. He has to go back to talking to the telegrapher and the cigar maker. He makes a May basket for Nina Harling and leaves it on her doorstep as is customary. He hears her cries of delight and feels good. One evening he talks to Frances Harling who tells him Mrs. Harling is not so angry with him any more. She is only wondering why Jim wonít socialize with people of his own set. She says that after he passes the college examinations and shows that he is in earnest, her mother will be fine with him. Jim tells her that if she were a boy, he thinks she too would go to the Firemenísí dances instead of the Owl Club. Frances tells him he has put glamour over the country girls, but that she knows them better.
At his high school graduation, Jim gives the oration and it is a great success. He sees Mrs. Harling in the audience and looks at her the whole time he is giving the speech. She comes up to him afterward and congratulates him on doing so well. When he walks home, he finds Antonia, Lena and Anna Hansen waiting for him. They congratulate him enthusiastically. Anna says it must make him happy to have words to go with his thoughts like that. She wishes she had been able to go to school like he has. Antonia wishes her father had been able to hear his speech. Jim says he thought of Mr. Shimerda the whole time he was writing it and had dedicated it to him. He stands and watches them as they walk away. He feels that no success in his life has been greater.
Jimís life takes a turn in this chapter back toward respectability, toward conforming to what is expected of him. It happens with great success and with great feeling. Choosing not to be a "devil of a fellow" but someone who can put his feelings into words and be approved by his grandfather, Mrs. Harling, and the hired girls is clearly the right path for Jim to take in the values of the novel. Notice that his new turn places him at a distance from the hired women. He is only congratulated by them when he has gotten outside the building and is on the street on the way home.
The shift away from affiliation with the hired women is helped along by the conversation Jim has with Frances Harling, a character Cather has already set up as one of the moral authorities in the novel, perhaps a sort of stand in for herself. Frances tells Jim he has taken the wrong tact in regard to the hired women because he has romanticized them. She says she also appreciates them, but knows them better than he does. For Jim, Mrs. Harling replaces the hired women as the person in his life whose approval he strives for.