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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
BOOK 4 - THE PIONEER WOMAN'S STORY
At the beginning of August, Jim goes to see the Widow Steavens. He notices the great changes that have happened in the land. The red prairies have almost completely disappeared and the sod houses have been replaced with wood-framed houses. He approves of these changes greatly. When he gets to Mrs. Steavensí house, the house he grew up in, she invites him to spend the night. After dinner she tells him Antoniaís story.
Antonia got word from Larry Donovan that they would be married, so she came to Mrs. Steavensí house every day to sew her linens and clothes. She was very excited about the wedding and setting up house in Black Hawk. The wait was a long one and when she finally got a letter, Mrs. Steavens noticed that she had begun to lose heart. Larry wrote that they would be living in Denver, a decision Antonia was not happy with but soon accepted. Ambrosch gave her three hundred dollars and drove her to the station. They got a letter that she was there and he had met her, but that the wedding had been delayed while he was working on getting his promotion. Then they heard nothing. Soon everyone began to get very worried. One day, William Steavens, Mrs. Steavensí brother, came home to report that he had seen Antonia in a wagon along with all her trunks. Mrs. Steavens went to see her and Antonia told her she was not married, but should be. She said Larry had fooled her into believing he was getting promoted, when in fact he had been fired and blacklisted for cheating customers. He had stayed with her until all her money was gone and then had abandoned her. She thought he must have gone to Mexico to try his hand at railroad cheating there.
Mrs. Steavens watched Antonia over the next months as she worked in the field doing menís work. She saw that Antonia was pregnant and watched her get slower and slower in her movements. Then one night, Mrs. Shimerda came over to say the baby came. Antonia had come in from the fields where she was herding cattle, gone to her room, and gave birth to her child alone. Ambrosch was in a fury. Mrs. Steavens went immediately to the Shimerdas and helped Antonia get cleaned up and wrapped the baby. Antonia was very silent. When Mrs. Steavens took the baby out of the room, Ambrosch told her she should put it in the rain barrel. She told him he had better remember there was a law in the land and that she was a witness that the baby was born healthy. Mrs. Steavens reports that the baby grew well and Antonia was very happy with it. She wishes Antonia could get married and raise a family, but fears that she probably wonít be able to.
That night Jim stays in his old room. He lies awake watching the moon outside his window.
Cather has the opportunity in this chapter to return to a description of the prairie, changed from years of farming. Now instead of sod houses there are wooden houses and the red grass has almost totally disappeared. Jim approves of these changes in the land, identifying as he does with the settlers who have suffered so much privation while settling the land. He writes, "All the human effort that had one into it was coming back in long, sweeping lines of fertility. The changes seemed beautiful and harmonious to me; it was like watching the growth of some great man or of a great idea." The reader should remember Jimís present occupation in the further colonization of the west.
The story of Antoniaís betrayal and abandonment by Larry Donovan is sad to read. Thanks to Catherís skillful character development, the reader identifies greatly with Antonia. Despite the mistake Antonia made in allowing herself to be hoodwinked by her lover, most readers will sympathize with her. Placing her back on her brotherís farm as a farm worker, who replaces the hired man he usually uses, Cather elicits even more sympathy from the reader for Antonia.
The next afternoon Jim goes to the Shimerdas and finds Tony out in the fields. They clasp hands staring at each other silently. He notices she is thinner and "worked down" even though she is only twenty-four years old. They walk to the patch of land that surrounds Antoniaís fatherís grave and talk. He tells her all about his life in college and his plans to study law and then practice it in a law firm in New York run by one of his motherís relatives. He tells her Gaston Cleric died that winter. She wants to know all about his life. She is sad that he is going to live away permanently, but tells him she is consoled in the thought that he will always be with her in her memories of him just as her father is. She says the older she gets, the better she knows her father.
Antonia canít imagine living in a big city where she would find it so lonely. She says she is so intimate with the land that it is like a friend to her. She plans to raise her daughter so she can have better chances than she did. Jim tells Antonia that she means a great deal to him and influences every decision he makes in life, that she is a part of him. She looks at him sadly wondering how he can still feel this way when she has so disappointed him. Then she says itís wonderful how people can mean so much to each other.
As they walk home the moon is just coming out as the sun is going down. The "two luminaries confronted each other across the level land, resting on opposite edges of the world." In the light of twilight, every blade of grass and feature of the landscape stands out sharply. Jim feels the pull of the earth. At the edge of the field, they part ways. Before they do, though, Jim holds Antoniaís hands against his heart for a long time. He will carry with Jim "the closest, realest face, under all the shadows of womenís faces, at the very bottom of my memory." He tells her he will come back. She says he may or may not, but she would always have him with her so she wonít be lonesome. As he walks on alone, he seems to see the shadows of a little boy and girl "laughing and whispering to each other in the grass."
Chapter 4 is a very poignant chapter describing Jimís leave-taking from Antonia and from the land of his childhood. The connection between them is expressed most fully here. Jim tells her, "Iíd have liked to have you for a sweetheart, or a wife, or my mother or my sister--anything that a woman can be to a man. The idea of you is a part of my mind; you influence my likes and dislikes, all my tastes, hundreds of times when I donít realize it. You really are a part of me." Perhaps this is one of the closest relationships between a man and a woman that isnít based on erotic attraction in all of literature.