Book II: The Hired Girls
Parts I – III
The section begins with the Burden family deciding to move into the town of Black Hawk, just as Jim reaches age 13. The Burdens are getting old, and they don’t feel like they are up to the work anymore. Jake and Otto are no longer needed, so they help the Burdens move into Black Hawk, and then they get on the train and leave to become prospectors in Colorado. Otto sends Jim a letter a few months later, but a response is returned unclaimed, and Jim never sees either of them again.
The three of them adjust quickly to town life. Mr. Burden becomes a deacon in the church, Mrs. Burden becomes active in the social functions that go along with that, and Jim becomes much like the local schoolboys. Their neighbor, Mrs. Harling, exercises a civilizing influence on Jim by setting limits on his behavior in front of her children.
The location of their house in town makes it easier for their friends and neighbors from their farming days to visit them, and they often do. The Burdens hear news of their friends and neighbors this way, and they hear that Ambrosch has begun hiring Ántonia out like any farm-hand, and that people prefer to hire her over Ambrosch. Upset by this, Mrs. Burden decides to get Ántonia a position in the town, and she finds Ántonia a job with Mrs. Harling.
Mrs. Harling is jolly and intelligent, and she rules her family firmly in her husband’s frequent absences. Mr. Christian Harling is a wealthy and prominent businessman in the grain elevator business. Their grown daughter, Frances, is a capable assistant to her father and often circulates among members of the community, both for social and business reasons. The Harlings have three children about Jim’s age – Charley, the only son, who plans to enter the Navy; Julia, who is the “musical one” and is a little older than Jim; and Sally, who is a little younger than Jim and is known as a tomboy. They also have a young daughter, Nina, who has enormous brown eyes and a very fickle and delicate temper.
When the Harlings’ cook leaves them, Mrs. Burden convinces Mrs. Harling to hire Ántonia. Mrs. Harling travels out to the Shimerda farm to see Ántonia, and after some haggling with Ambrosch about wages, they reach an agreement, and Ántonia becomes a member of the Harling household.
Ántonia becomes an important part of the family, as both a cook and a willing playfellow for the children. She develops a strong preference for Charley, and takes extra care with his wishes in the house. But Mr. Harling remains the ruler of the household, and he expects quiet in the house when he is home, as well as his wife’s attention. When he is not home, the house is quite noisy. Everyone in the family plays the piano, except Charley.
Analysis, Parts I-III
These three sections are almost all exposition, giving information about the dramatic changes in the Burden household. Otto and Jake are removed from the book, and a new network of characters is established, with the Harling household figuring prominently. The situation seems idyllic, with Ántonia safely removed from her family and in a position where she might start her education again. Frances Harling represents an interesting example of a strong female character who is unattached to a husband and, apparently, happy. Here is a context where Ántonia – with Frances as a model – can be successful as something other than a farmer’s wife.