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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
BOOK 3 - LENA LINGARD
The theatrical season in Lincoln comes after the main season in New York and Chicago. The theatrical companies come to Lincoln after they’ve played in these large cities. Jim takes Lena to many plays and enjoys her company. Lena is completely mesmerized by the stage, the costumes, the emotion of the actors, and the pure spectacle. At the end of April a famous play by Alexandre Dumas’s son comes to town. Jim and Lena arrive early since she likes to watch people come in. When the curtain rises, Jim is overwhelmed with excitement at the scene and the fresh dialogue. The actress who plays the lead role is aging and stiff in her movements and speech, but since the lines are so well-written, the play doesn’t suffer from her ineptitude. At the intermission, Jim goes out to smoke and congratulates himself on inviting Lena instead of one of the Lincoln women who would be chattering during the intermission about the local social scene. "Lena was at least a woman, and I was a man." As the play closes, Lena and Jim weep at the tragic denouement. As he walks home after the play, he thinks that no matter who plays the parts or what time of year it is played, the play will always bring springtime with it.
If a chapter could be removed from the novel without hurting the plot line or character development, it is this one. Cather seems to have been carried away with the thrill of the theater in describing this story. Perhaps one can see it as a vivid description of the excitement country people experience on seeing a good play for the first time.
Jim spends a good deal of time in Lena’s parlor with her. He is always amazed that she is so successful in her business since she seems so laconic in her manner. She has a good sense of what people look good in and a good manner with her customers. The spend wonderful Sunday breakfasts together with her pet dog, Prince. He enjoys listening to Lena’s speech. With Antonia, he never forgot she was an immigrant because "there was always something impulsive and foreign in her speech." Lena learned all the conventional turns of phrase, like calling a leg a "limb" but said them with more freshness than was normally used.
Lena tells him about Ole Benson. She said she liked his company since it was so lonely herding cattle. He liked to show her his tattoos and he told her about his life. He had been a sailor and had great difficulty keeping himself out of trouble with women, usually prostitutes, who stole his money. He worked for passage to the United States and married Mary because he thought she would be able to keep him straight.
Lena’s neighbor in her boarding house is a Polish man named Mr. Ordinsky, a violin teacher, who is very protective of her. Her landlord, Colonel Raleigh, from Kentucky, is also very taken by Lena. One night Mr. Ordinsky comes by to ask Lena for her help with his dress suit. While she is fixing it, her asks Jim if his intentions toward Lena are honorable. When he finds out they are childhood friends, he begins to like Jim. Once, Mr. Ordinsky writes an article attacking the musical tastes of Lincoln and has Jim deliver it and demand that it be printed. It is and there is no reaction, but Mr. Ordinsky acts as if he is under siege for his brave act of speaking the truth.
Since he has been seeing Lena, Jim has lost all his drive to study. His teacher, Gaston Cleric, gets a post at Harvard and asks him to come along with him. He tells Jim he will never do anything as long as he is with Lena in Lincoln. He gets his grandfather’s permission and plans his departure. Before he leaves, he tells Lena who is sad and feels guilty for taking him from his studies. He tells her he hopes she won’t marry an old man even if he is rich. She says she will never marry since she has seen enough of married life and wants to be self-determining.
Jim leaves Lincoln and goes home to spend a few weeks with his grandparents. Then he visits relatives in Virginia and then goes to Boston. He is nineteen years old.
With the end of Book 3, we see the end of Jim’s time in the Midwest. That departure is marked by a reluctant departure from Lena Lingard. Cather seems to be casting Lena in the role of the symbol of the Midwest and its attractions for Jim. His life takes a major turn as he foregoes the pleasures of being with Lena and heads off to Harvard. However, Lena is also a round character; that is, she is given a depth of personality not found in a character who plays a purely symbolic role. Lena’s decision not to marry because she doesn’t want to be under someone’s thumb all the time sets her apart from the vast majority of young women her age who never questioned the social code which demanded that they marry. She tells Jim, "Men are all right for friends, but as soon as you marry them they turn into cranky old fathers, even the wild ones. They begin to tell you what’s sensible and what’s foolish, and want you to stick at home all the time. I prefer to be foolish when I feel like it, and be accountable to nobody." Thus, Cather adds Lena to a group of Midwestern women who are feminists in their own way, strong women who bypass the normative gender rules in one way or another: Frances Harling and her mother, Mrs. Harling, the frame narrator, and now Lena Lingard.