Study Guide

My Ántonia Book 1, Chapter 8

By Willa Cather

Book 1, Chapter 8

  • As fall comes to an end the Russians start having some trouble. Peter tells Mr. Shimerda that he had to mortgage all his stuff to pay a bill to Wick Cutter, a terrible moneylender who lives in town who took advantage of Peter on interest rates.
  • Then Pavel hurt himself working and is now laid up in bed. Everyone says the Russians have bad luck.
  • One day Ántonia and her father come to the Burdens' to get some buttermilk. Before they leave, Russian Peter drives up. He says Pavel is very sick and wants to see Mr. Shimerda and Ántonia. Grandmother lets Jim go along as well, and gives him sandwiches and doughnuts to take.
  • Ántonia and Jim ride together in the back of the wagon and huddle for warmth.
  • Peter groans that Pavel might die. Jim looks up at the stars and wonders what influence they have on earthly events.
  • When they arrive, Pavel seems to be asleep. His breathing is labored. It's very windy outside and Jim can hear coyotes. Pavel cries out as though he's having a bad dream.
  • Ántonia tells Jim that Pavel is scared of wolves, because in his country the wolves eat people. Jim can't stop looking at the ghastly sight of Pavel. Peter mixes the sick man some water and whiskey. Pavel drinks it.
  • Finally Pavel tells Mr. Shimerda a long story in Russian which Jim cannot understand. Ántonia listens and holds Jim's hand the whole time. She tells Jim that the story is about wolves. Pavel gets all worked up as he tells it. He coughs up blood and then falls asleep.
  • Peter drives the guests home. On the way back, Ántonia repeats the story to Jim.
  • When Peter and Pavel were young men in Russia they were groomsmen for a friend getting married. After the wedding everyone had to travel by sledge over to the after-party. After the party everyone had to go home by sledge; by then it was late at night.
  • It was winter and there were lots of wolves everywhere. On the way home all the sledges were attacked by a huge pack of wolves.
  • Peter and Pavel were driving the sledge with the groom and bride in it, and they tried to get the groom to throw the bride over so as to lighten their load and let them outrun the wolves. When the groom refused, they threw both him and the bride overboard to save their own lives.
  • Peter and Pavel ended up being the only survivors, but they were then pariahs in their town and so they left and came to America. End of the story.
  • Pavel dies several days later. Peter buries him, sells all their stuff, and goes off to work as a cook. The Burdens buy some of the stuff he auctions off. Peter looks depressed the whole time. Supposedly he kissed his cow before it was sold, but Jim doesn't know if this is true or not. Before Peter leaves he eats the melons he had been saving for winter.
  • Afterwards, Mr. Shimerda gets very depressed now that his two friends are gone. He often goes out to the empty log house and sits in it alone.
  • Jim and Ántonia never repeat the story of the wolves to anyone; they get a strange sense of pleasure out of this. Jim often dreams that he is in a sledge pulled by horses, just like in the story.