Study Guide

My Ántonia Book 2, Chapter 7

By Willa Cather

Book 2, Chapter 7

  • Jim thinks that winter lasts too long in town, and that it's worse to go through winter there than it was back on the farm.
  • He often goes with the Harlings to the river to ice skate and make bonfires on the shore. By March, though, he is tired of the weather.
  • So he is grateful when a famous N**** piano player named Blind d'Arnault comes to town to give a concert at the opera house. Before the concert, the piano player is spending the weekend at the town hotel where Tiny Soderball works. It turns out that Mrs. Harling has known this man for years, so she advises Ántonia to go visit Tiny at the hotel while he's staying there.
  • Saturday evening Jim goes down the hotel and sits in the parlor to wait for Blind d'Arnault to play. There is a stove at either end of the room and a piano in the middle.
  • Everyone is happy that night because the owner, Mrs. Gardener, was out of town for the week.
  • (Mrs. Gardener is the best-dressed woman in Black Hawk, owns the best horse and sleigh, but doesn't flaunt her possessions. She is rather cold and distant.)
  • Her husband isn't a great manager, and mostly just chats with the travelers.
  • There is a man named Anson Kirkpatrick at the piano when Jim comes in. Several of the men staying at the hotel are sitting around in the parlor chatting.
  • Johnnie Gardener enters, directing Blind d'Arnault where to go. The piano player is a heavyset man and his eyes are closed. He greets the men in a soft voice.
  • Jim thinks that Blind d'Arnault looks and sounds like a stereotypical black man should. He also thinks he looks happy.
  • Blind d'Arnault finds his way to the piano. Jim notices that he constantly sways a bit. He tries some scales on the piano and tells the crowd that it seems just fine to him. He says he wants to sing some plantation songs.
  • Then he plays, swaying in time to the music with his eyes closed.
  • Jim explains that the man was born in the far south on a plantation, where the spirit though not the fact, of slavery persisted. When he was an infant an illness left him blind, and soon after he had another illness that left him nervously swaying all the time.
  • His mother was ashamed of him and hid him from people. She called him Samson. When he was six he used to run away up to the plantation and listen to one of the plantation owners, Miss d'Arnault, playing the piano. His mother used to beat him if she caught him.
  • When Miss d'Arnault saw him listening, she saw how happy the music made him. One day, when the piano room was empty, he crept over to the piano and started playing. Miss d'Arnault returned with her teacher, which scared him so much he had a fit.
  • When Samson recovered, Miss d'Arnault got teachers for him at the piano. It turned out he had perfect pitch and memory. He didn't play in a technically correct manner, but the music sounded good anyway.
  • Back to the present time. As Blind d'Arnault begins to play, one of the men in the parlor hears dancing from the room next door. Anson looks into the next room to find Ántonia, Tiny, Lena, and another girl named Mary Dusak. He gets them to come into the parlor and dance with the men.
  • Tiny protests, because she knows Mrs. Gardener wouldn't like it. But the men convince them. Johnnie doesn't want to participate, however, because he's afraid of his wife finding out.
  • Blind d'Arnault starts playing dance music. Jim is fascinated by watching his face and body while he plays; he thinks the man looks very exotic and savage.
  • Jim describes some of the girls. Tiny is small and wears short dressed. Mary is broad and has marks from smallpox but is still pretty. In short, they all look good.
  • Blind d'Arnault finishes playing and shows the guests his fancy jewelry. Then he goes upstairs with his manager. Jim walks Ántonia home and they stand outside by the gate at the Harlings' whispering late into the night.