Study Guide

My Ántonia Book 2, Chapter 4

By Willa Cather

Book 2, Chapter 4

  • The kids all tease Ántonia about how much she likes Charley. They are in the process of making popcorn balls at the Harlings' when the door rings. It is a pretty, dressed-up girl named Lena Lingard. Jim almost doesn't recognize her, because she was a farm girl too at one point.
  • Lena explains that now she's come to town to work, just like Tony.
  • Mrs. Harling comes in and looks Lena up and down disapprovingly. She wants to know where the girl is working, and Lena says she's working for the dressmaker, Mrs. Thomas. She says she's going to use the money to help out her mother, who is still back on the farm.
  • Mrs. Harling is very rude to the girl, but Lena ignores it. Frances invites her to sit down with them.
  • We learn that Lena was supposed to marry a boy named Nick, except his father wouldn't allow it. Now Nick is marrying some other girl. Lena doesn't mind though, because she says she's seen a lot of married life and has decided she doesn't want it.
  • Another girl, Tiny Soderball, is in the same situation as Tony and Lena and has come to town to work to make money for her family back on the farm. She's working at a hotel in town run by Mrs. Gardener. Mrs. Harling doesn't like the idea of that.
  • Before Lena goes, she takes Ántonia aside and asks her to come visit sometime. Ántonia is hesitant, because Mrs. Harling doesn't like her out and about. Lena insists.
  • After Lena leaves, Frances asks Ántonia why she wasn't more friendly to Lena. Ántonia explains that she was afraid that Mrs. Harling wouldn't like a girl like that coming around, because Lena had a bad reputation out on the farm.
  • Jim runs home to tell his grandmother that Lena came to town, and they're glad that she gets to leave her hard life on the farm.
  • Lena lived on a farm in a Norwegian settlement and used to herd her father's cattle. Jim was always amazed that she managed to stay so feminine even though she was doing rough man's work. She has a gentle voice and violet eyes.
  • Her father is a bad farmer and they have a big family. Lena always tries to take care of her brothers and sisters. She was talked about because a man named Ole Benson fell in love with her.
  • Ole was lazy and had a crazy wife named Crazy Mary. She was put in an insane asylum after setting a barn on fire, but escaped and walked home two hundred miles and no one sent her back even though she made the landscape considerably less attractive.
  • When Ole was out in the field he used to go sit with Lena and watch the cattle with her. The whole settlement got upset and the preacher's wife tried to get Lena to start coming to church, which would probably make her less desirable. The preacher's wife also gave Lena a dress to wear, because Lena's was ragged and had lots of holes in it.
  • So Lena comes to church in one of the preacher's wife's dresses, and she looks so pretty dressed-up that everyone realizes how attractive she is, which means the preacher's wife really shot everyone in the foot. Ole is there too, and he makes a point of helping Lena onto her horse after the mass.
  • This makes Crazy Mary angry, and so she runs after Lena with a knife.
  • Lena finds the whole thing funny.
  • Except Crazy Mary continues to chase Lena with a knife, which is not so funny. One day she chases Lena all the way to the Shimderdas' farm and demonstrates to everyone how sharp her knife is. Lena hides in Ántonia's room and later Mrs. Shimerda tells her not to make eyes at Ole.
  • Lena says she didn't provoke Ole, and she can't help it if he comes around staring at her.