Book V: Cuzak’s Boys
Parts I – III
Twenty years have passed, and Jim hears through Lena Lingard and Tiny Soderball that Ántonia is married, and that she has not picked the best possible man. Though he kept his old promise to visit her home town in Bohemia, take pictures, and send them to her, Jim has not gone to visit her despite numerous trips west for business. Jim decides to visit, finally, and takes a buggy out from the train station to find Ántonia Cuzak, as she is called now. He comes upon two boys contemplating a dead dog, and they tell him that they are Mrs. Cuzak’s children, and they walk him back to the house. An older girl invites him in, and fetches her mother. When Ántonia enters, she doesn’t recognize him, but he eventually recognizes her. She has had many children— about ten more—and she has lost teeth and gained weight, but the quality that made her special before has not left her.
Ántonia introduces her children, and makes some mistakes about names and ages. Her husband is away, she says, so she asks Jim to stay awhile to meet him. Anna, the oldest, takes charge and has Ántonia sit in the kitchen and talk to Jim, while she and some of the other children get dinner ready. The family makes a short trek to the fruit cave, where Ántonia laments the vast quantities of food that her enormous family consumes. Ántonia invites Jim to stay the night, and he offers to sleep in the barn with the boys. He accompanies them to milk the cows, and they tell him that they have framed his pictures and mounted them in the parlor, and that they have heard all about how well-liked their mother was. They gather back in the house for dinner and some music from the children on the piano. Ántonia gets out some pictures and shares some news about old friends. Her daughter from Donovan, Martha, is married and doing well.
After Jim spends a night in the barn, Mr. Cuzak arrives on the train. He knows quite a bit about Jim, and he seems like he has a good relationship with his wife. Jim hears the story of the end of the Cutters, and how Wick shot his wife, then shot himself, then tried to get the attention of people passing by. He wanted everyone to know that he died last, so that his wife would not be able to dispose of any of his money in her will.
Jim eventually departs and visits Black Hawk, disappointed at how much is different and unrecognizable, and how few people he knows there. He spends some time with Anton Jelinek, and finds out more about the Cutter case from a lawyer friend, then travels out toward the old Shimerda and Burden farm and finds a section of the old road, where he thinks about how his life has brought him back to that place, where he first stepped off the train with Ántonia.
Analysis, Parts I-III
The book ends with an appropriate, if not ideal, marriage, and with Ántonia as the founder of a race of beings like her. She has helped create a vast amount of life on the Nebraska prairie, and it is difficult to say that her single disgrace with a minor character has completely ruined her life. If we assume that she can’t marry Jim, then we might ask if she could at least be rich. For some reason, that doesn’t seem possible. Her disgrace, though it doesn’t destroy her completely, at least makes her less appealing to men who can afford to choose their wives. And it doesn’t seem like Ántonia will be able to amass her own fortune.
When compared to Jim’s fate, as a successful lawyer with a brilliant marriage to a wealthy woman who has yet produced no children and doesn’t seem ready to, it doesn’t seem like the marriage to a wealthy man would be desirable for Ántonia. In other words, Jim’s marriage might be justification for Ántonia’s appropriate but not brilliant marriage. She seems happy to have so many children, and the many children mean that she has a lot of help. Her children sincerely admire her and enjoy their family history. They will continue to revere her as she gets older, and she has many hands to care for her in her old age.