Study Guide

My Ántonia Book 2, Chapter 12

By Willa Cather

Book 2, Chapter 12

  • Once Ántonia leaves the Harlings, she becomes even more interested in partying. She always makes clothes with Lena's help, copying the fancy dresses of older, wealthy women in town. This makes these rich women upset.
  • She also starts wearing gloves and high heels, which attract attention.
  • Jim is in high school now and at recess he always watches the girls walk by. He likes to think that Ántonia is prettier than all the others.
  • He hangs out with the hired girls a lot after school. One day they tease him because his grandmother said she wanted Jim to be a preacher. There's a lot of flirting all around.
  • Ántonia says that she wants Jim to be a doctor.
  • Jim says that he's going to be what he wants, not what other people want.
  • People in town start talking about how Jim is always hanging out with the hired girls. They think it's weird that he would rather hang out with them than town girls his own age.
  • After the Vannis' dance tent leaves town, dancing remains a fad. The Owl Club holds dances, but Jim doesn't go. He is moody because he's a teenager, and he's tired of his small town.
  • Mrs. Harling isn't nice to Jim because he's friends with Ántonia.
  • Jim gets bored in the evenings when there's nothing to do. Sometimes he walks around town looking for activity.
  • Black Hawk has two saloons, one of which is a nice place, owned by Anton Jelinek. Jim goes in there sometimes, until Anton asks him not to. Anton says that he's friends with Jim's grandfather, who wouldn't like his grandson going to a saloon.
  • Sometimes Jim hangs out at the drugstore listening to the old men who sit around there telling stories.
  • Other times he goes to the depot to watch the trains come in. He talks with the telegrapher who shows him pictures of famous people, or with the station agent who is generally unhappy.
  • Jim really doesn't like his town anymore. He's bored and he thinks people are too guarded.
  • Instead of going to dances at the Owl Club, Jim decides to go to dances at the Fireman's Hall, because it is a different crowd. But he can't tell his grandparents about it because they wouldn't approve.
  • So Jim has to sneak out of his house at night. He has fun at the dances, and the hired girls are always there.
  • Four Danish hired girls work for the laundryman. He pays them well and they live with him and his wife. He seems like a fairly happy man.
  • Jim notices that these girls aren't as ambitious as Tony or Lena and they don't know as much English, but he thinks they're nice anyway.
  • Tony and Lena are the most popular girls at these dances. Lena doesn't talk much and dances every dance as though it is a waltz. Tony adds more variety and is more lively.
  • Jim wonders what Ántonia's life would have been like if her father hadn't died but had stayed in New York and made a living playing his fiddle.
  • Ántonia starts dating Larry Donovan, a passenger conductor and a bit of a player.
  • One night when Larry is out of town, Jim walks Ántonia home from the dance. He tells her to kiss him good night. She says sure.
  • After they kiss, Ántonia chastises Jim for kissing her that way and threatens to tell his grandmother.
  • Jim replies that Lena lets him kiss her that way.
  • This upsets Ántonia. She doesn't want Lena to start something with Jim. Then she tells Jim that he has to go away to school and make something of his life. She tells him not to get mixed up with the Swedes.
  • Jim tells her not to treat him like a kid. Ántonia laughs.
  • After he leaves, Jim reflects that he is proud of Ántonia. She is still his Ántonia, he thinks. He might be just a boy, but he knows who the real women in town are.
  • Jim goes home to sleep. Sometimes he dreams that he and Ántonia are frolicking around in the country together. Sometimes he dreams sexy dreams about Lena. He wishes he could have sexy dreams about Ántonia, but he never does.