Study Guide

My Ántonia Book 1, Chapter 14

By Willa Cather

Book 1, Chapter 14

  • On the 22nd Jim wakes up. He hears voices and knows that something has just happened. Jake and Otto are in the kitchen looking tired, and Grandmother keeps praying to God.
  • Finally, Grandfather explains that Mr. Shimerda is dead, and that Otto and Jake have been at the Shimerdas half the night. He shows him that Ambrosch is there asleep.
  • Everyone has breakfast and Jim knows better than to ask too many questions.
  • Otto tells Jim's grandfather that no one heard the gun go off. Grandmother wonders how such a sweet man could inflict this much trouble on the people he loved.
  • Fuchs says it was no accident, that the man shaved and got dressed all nice before he shot himself in the head. Since all he had was a long rifle, he had to use his big toe to pull the trigger.
  • But Jake isn't sure that Mr. Shimerda committed suicide. He says he found Peter Krajiek's axe there and that it fit the gash in the old man's face. Krajiek is afraid that if anyone finds that out they'll hang him.
  • But Fuchs is sure that it was a suicide.

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  • Grandmother wants to go along with the men to the Shimerdas. She is particularly worried about ├üntonia, because she thinks Ambrosch will take advantage of her willingness to work and not take good care of her.
  • Otto rides into town to get the priest and the coroner.
  • This leaves Jim with Ambrosch. Jim is surprised to see that he is devout and praying all the time, which is very unlike him.
  • Finally Grandfather, Grandmother, Jake, and Ambrosch set off for the Shimerdas, and Jim is left by himself in the house for the first time ever. He does some of the chores and tries to read a book. He thinks Robinson Crusoe's life is boring compared to his own adventures. So instead he thinks about Mr. Shimerda's soul.
  • Jim decides that homesickness killed Mr. Shimerda. He wonders whether the man's spirit will go back to Bohemia, or just rest there in Nebraska. He decides that the spirit is right here in the Burden house, but this doesn't frighten him.
  • Jim goes into the kitchen and thinks some more about Mr. Shimerda. He pictures what the man's life was like.
  • Everyone returns after dark. Grandmother goes to bed while Jake and Jim get supper ready. Jake explains that no one can touch the body until the coroner arrives, and now it's frozen stiff in the barn. The Shimerdas keep taking turns going into the barn in the cold to pray by the body. Ambrosch thinks it will take several years of prayers for them to get his soul out of purgatory.
  • This confuses Jim, because he likes to think that Mr. Shimerda's spirit is on its way back to Bohemia.
  • He thinks about how religious literature says that suicides are selfish and will be tormented. But he doesn't think that Mr. Shimerda was selfish, just unhappy.