Study Guide

My Ántonia Book 2, Chapter 6

By Willa Cather

Book 2, Chapter 6

  • The winter is always tough on a small town on the prairie. Everything starts to look ugly. Jim has a hard time even getting to school in the morning. He feels as though the winter is a punishment for their having enjoyed summer so much.
  • Sometimes Jim loiters around after school, and then it's dark by the time he goes home. The town always looks desolate at this time. Some of the windows have lights in them and the children are always running about. He wishes there were more color in the town. He wonders why they all hang around outside talking when it's so cold.
  • He's always drawn to the Harlings' house in the winter because they always have lights on in their windows. He doesn't go if Mr. Harling is home. He's starting to feel bored at home.
  • But when Mr. Harling isn't home he always has a grand time over there. They do things like play dress-up and dance and listen to Mrs. Harling play the piano.
  • Ántonia sews her own clothes now because she learned from Lena how to make dresses. She also likes the Harlings' house, especially compared to her own life back on the farm with Ambrosch and her mother. She's always happy to cook extra treats for the Harling children.
  • Nina likes to get Ántonia to tell stories from her childhood.
  • Ántonia thinks that Christ was born in Bohemia shortly before her family left the country.
  • One night Ántonia tells a story about when she and Ole were working on a farm in the Norwegian Settlement. They were throwing bundles of wheat into a threshing machine. A tramp came alone and said it was a very hot day and there wasn't enough water in the ponds to drown yourself, and could he work for them for money.
  • Tony thought the man was crazy and didn't want to let him near the machine. But Ole was eager to get some help working and so he let the tramp help. The tramp worked for a few minutes and then jumped into the threshing machine to kill himself.
  • That really messed up the machine.
  • Nine is crying, because when a small child asks you to tell them a story you should generally leave the chopped-up bodies out of it. Ántonia feels bad.
  • Mrs. Harling, who is all about this story, commands Nina to stop crying so she can hear more details.
  • Ántonia explains that they never knew where the tramp was from, but that he just came from a little town where he was trying to get beer. All he had on him was a wishbone which clearly didn't work and some poetry.
  • The poem was called "The Old Oaken Bucket' and he had cut it out of a newspaper.
  • Tony thinks it's strange that anyone would want to kill themselves on such a nice summer day.
  • Mrs. Harling offers to go help Ántonia thresh next summer.
  • Then they all enjoy taffy together.
  • Jim notes that Ántonia and Mrs. Harling are very well suited to each other. They are both strong and independent and like children and animals and music and cooking. And they're also charitable but strict with obnoxious people. They both seem to really enjoy life.