Study Guide

My Ántonia Book 2, Chapter 9

By Willa Cather

Book 2, Chapter 9

  • Jim explains the social situation in Black Hawk. The men who live in town are attracted to the country girls.
  • The country girls grew up with hard lives, like Ántonia, and they aren't formally educated. But Jim thinks they are smarter and more interesting than those who are more privileged.
  • Physically they are strong and fit, especially compared to the town girls who rarely go outside. This means they're better dancers.
  • And yet, the town girls still think that they're better than the country girls.
  • Jim notes that these girls' own families had just as hard a time when they were farmers, but that Americans weren't willing to send their daughters out to work the way the immigrants were.
  • All the Americans' daughters can do is teach, but the immigrant daughters don't know English well-enough for that, so they have to do service work.
  • This is why, says Jim, the foreign farmers are the ones who become successful first, and the younger generation ends up more wealthy than the American families they used to work for.
  • Jim thinks it's dumb that the town people don't respect the hired girls. He knows that many of the immigrants used to be respectable in their old countries – Lena's grandfather was a clergyman, for example.
  • Narrator-Jim is glad that he lived to see the day where the immigrants are more successful than the people they served once.
  • The town boys plan on marrying the town girls, but they are attracted to the immigrant girls.
  • Because of this, the immigrants threaten to upset the social order. But this is an empty threat, since the town boys wouldn't dare to marry any of them.
  • Yet the immigrant girls are still a temptation for any young man of position. He would run into them all over town and be tempted by their beauty.
  • Jim talks a bit about the three Marys, immigrant girls who also worked in town. Mary Dusak worked as a housekeeper for a bachelor, but he got her pregnant. Later she ended up working in the place of Mary Svoboda, who also got pregnant by her employer. Because of this, the three Marys are considered dangerous to have around. But they are very good at cooking and cleaning.
  • The dancing tent brings together everyone in town from different social positions. Sylvester Lovett is a town boy who always dances with Lena on Saturday nights and even walks her home. But he tries to hide if his friends walk by. He reminds Jim of Ole.
  • Jim finds out that Sylvester drove out to see Lena when she was visiting her family on the farm. He took her buggy riding. Jim hopes that Sylvester will marry Lena and erase the taboo about socializing with hired girls.
  • But instead, Sylvester marries a widow who is six years his senior. Then he was no longer tempted by Lena.
  • Jim dislikes Sylvester a lot on account of this.