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My Antonia - chapter by chapter

Terms in this set (18)

- Jim doesn't remember arriving at his grandfather's farm, and when he wakes up he's in bed in a little room in his grandparent's house.
- His grandmother is looking at him and crying because Jim looks so much like his father (her son). She gives him clean clothes and brings him to the kitchen to have a bath behind the stove.
- Jim goes with her into the basement. The floor is made of cement and the walls are plaster. He smells gingerbread baking. He takes a bath. A large cat comes along and watches. He tells his grandmother the cakes are burning and she comes in to take them out of the oven.
- Jim's grandmother is a tall stooped woman who looks alert. She is energetic and quick, and she likes things to proceed in an orderly fashion. She is fifty-five and strong.
- Jim dresses and looks at the cellar next to the kitchen where the men come and go from the fields.
While his grandmother makes supper, Jim hangs out with the cat. His grandmother tells him that the new immigrant family he saw on the train is from Bohemia (in Czechoslovakia in Central Europe) and is now their closest neighbor.
- At dinner that night, they all talk about Virginia where Jake and Jim used to live with Jim's parents.
Jim's grandfather doesn't say much, and Jim senses a great amount of personal dignity in the man. He has a long white beard, a bald head, and blue eyes.
We learn that Otto Fuchs is an Austrian immigrant who came to America as a young boy. He was a cowboy in the West until he got pneumonia and had to tone it down. Now he works for Jim's grandfather.
- After supper, Otto gives Jim a pony named Dude. Then he explains that he lost his ear in a blizzard, and he teaches Jim how to throw a lasso. He shows Jim and Jake his cowboy boots, too.
- Later the family says prayers. Jim's grandfather reads Psalms and has a great voice.
- The next morning Jim takes a good look at his new house from the outside. It's one of the only real wooden houses around. He notes the windmill, a small pond, and a large cornfield. Everywhere is the red grass of the prairie, constantly moving in the wind.
- Grandmother comes out and asks Jim to come into the garden with her to dig potatoes. She brings a cane with her so that she can kill rattlesnakes with it. They walk a quarter of the mile to get to the garden, and Jim checks out the landscape on the way.
- In the garden, Jim's grandmother points out a badger hole. She says she won't kill the badger because she feels friendly towards the local animals. She leaves Jim alone in the garden after she gets her potatoes.
Jim leans against a pumpkin and feels at one with nature. He sees grasshoppers, gophers, and lots more tall grass. He feels happy and defines happiness as being dissolved into something great.
- The family meets the Shimerdas
- Backstory: they bought the farm from a fellow countryman named Peter Krajiek and got ripped off. They don't speak a lot of English and so they rely on Peter as an interpreter. The father doesn't know much about farming but the oldest son is strong and competent
- Grandmother and Otto talk about how it's a shame that Peter ripped off this family. Otto says he would have tried to help, except Bohemians have a natural distrust of Austrians.
- Their wagon approaches Squaw Creek and Jim sees a thatched shed made out of red grass next to a broken-down windmill. When they arrive, a woman and a young girl come out of the house to greet them. Grandmother and Mrs. Shimerda say hello to each other; Mrs. Shimerda laments the condition of her house, but Grandmother is encouraging. Mrs. Shimerda is grateful for the food.
The oldest son is named Ambrosch and is nineteen. The girl who is close to Jim's age is pretty; she has big brown eyes, tan skin, and curly hair. The little sister is called Yulka. Merrick is mentally retarded and physically disabled. The father has long hair and is tall and slender; he kisses Grandmother's hand. Jim thinks he is very dignified.
Ántonia and Yulka take Jim by the hand and lead him away into the prairie. It's windy, and the three of them are enjoying themselves together. Ántonia keeps pointing at things and asking Jim to tell her the word in English.
Ántonia tries to give Jim her ring. Jim refuses to take it and is bothered that someone so poor would try to give away what little she had.
After some time Mr. Shimerda comes to meet them and bring them back to the house where Jim's grandmother is waiting. Before the Burdens depart, Mr. Shimerda gives Jim's grandmother a book with two alphabets in it (English and Bohemian) and asks her to teach Ántonia.
That afternoon Jim takes a ride on his pony for the first time. Otto helps him. Once he's learned how to tide, he starts going to the post-office twice a week so that the men no longer have to make the trip. He also carries messages for the family to save Otto the time.
Narrator-Jim reflects fondly on his first autumn in Nebraska. He used to frolic around in the prairie.
The roads are bordered with sunflowers, and Otto tells Jim that the Mormons planted those seeds in order to mark the way for future travelers. But botanists say that that story is not true.
Jim likes to find trees, since there are so few of them in the country.
He also likes to go to the prairie-dog town and watch the owls flying around. Ántonia often goes with him. They speculate on how the dogs get water.
Ántonia is a very opinionated girl. Every day she goes to see Jim to get English lessons from him. Mrs. Shimerda doesn't like this, but she knows that someone in the family should speak the local language. After the lesson is done, Jim and Ántonia go and eat watermelons behind the garden. The Shimerdas like fruit because they didn't have any while they were on the ocean.
Ántonia often helps Jim's grandmother in the kitchen so that she can learn about cooking and housekeeping. Mrs. Shimerda was a good housewife back home, but things are hard for her in this new country. She makes bad-tasting bread for her family and leaves the residue in the pan to ferment to use as yeast for the next batch.
Their first few months in Nebraska the Shimerdas don't go into town, because Peter convinced them the town would take their money from them. They don't like Peter, but they have to keep him close because he's the only one who can translate for them. They don't know how to get rid of him.
Although the Shimerdas have it tough, the two girls never complain. They like to frolic about with Jim. One day Ántonia comes into Jim's kitchen and excitedly announces that her father found friends, some Russian men who live nearby. She's happy that her father has finally laughed and smiled in this new country.
Jim knows about these two Russians but has never met them. They are strange and aloof and go by the names Peter and Pavel. They avoid Bohemian Peter because he once cheated them in a trade.
Pavel is tall and an anarchist and does not speak English, and he coughs a lot. Russian Peter is short and fat and jovial and has curly hair. They both work as farm hands, on their own land and for hire to others. Everyone makes fun of Peter because he keeps a cow as a milk source.
Mr. Shimerda goes to see the Russians almost every night. He frequently takes Ántonia with him. Their Russian is not all that different from the Bohemian the Shimerdas speak.
One night, Jim and Ántonia go together in Jim's pony to visit the Russians. The Russians have a log house and a melon patch. They find Peter in front of a washtub. He takes the two of them to see his chickens and explains that he likes having his own cow because the milk is good for Pavel, who gets sick a lot.
Peter takes a wheelbarrow full of watermelons up the hill. Pavel is out somewhere digging a well. Jim gets to look around their house and he thinks it's nice.
Peter splits the melons and gives them to Jim and Ántonia to eat. He says that in his country everyone eats them all the time. He looks at Ántonia and laments that he if he had stayed home he would have a daughter to cook and clean for him. Then he says he left Russia because of a great trouble, but doesn't tell anyone what that means.
Then Peter looks around for something to entertain the two kids. He plays them music on his harmonica. When they leave, he gives them a sack of cucumbers and a pail of milk to take with them
Jim likes Ántonia, but he doesn't like her superior attitude. She is older than he and so she treats him like a child sometimes. But then one adventure changes that.
One day Jim rides over to the Shimerdas and finds Ántonia getting ready to go to Russian Peter's house to borrow a spade for Ambrosch. He ends up taking her there on his pony. On the way home with the spade, Ántonia gets him to stop at the prairie-dog town and dig into one of the holes to see what it looks like.
The prairie-dog town is large and spread out. Jim notes how orderly it seems. The dogs scurry underground as Jim approaches. He and Ántonia check out a big hole with two entrances. Then Ántonia screams, and Jim spots the biggest rattlesnake he's ever seen. She starts yelling in Bohemian. The snake rattles, and Jim sees that he is about to strike. He starts jabbing at the snake with his spade until it's dead.
After, Ántonia tells Jim he should have run. But she's impressed that he's so brave. She insists that they bring the dead snake back home for everyone to see. Jim points out the green liquid coming out of the snake's head and says it's the poison. They measure the snake to be five and a half feet long with 24 rattles. Ántonia says this means the snake is 24 years old.
Jim starts to feel proud of what he did. He respects the snake as the ancient and oldest Evil. Dude is too scared to let them come near him with the dead snake, so Ántonia rides him home while Jim walks beside, dragging the snake behind him and feeling proud of himself.
When they get home Otto greets them first. He asks how Jim killed the snake, and he thinks it's lucky they had a spade with them. Ántonia gushes about Jim's bravery. He and Otto go to hang the snake up in the windmill, while Ántonia goes into the kitchen to tell the story once again.
Later, Jim learns that this particular snake was old and that's why he didn't fight too much. He knows that a younger snake that size would have outmatched him.
The snake hangs there and several neighbors come to admire it over the next few days. Ántonia likes Jim much better from then on and she stops acting so superior.
As fall comes to an end the Russians start having some trouble. Peter tells Mr. Shimerda that he had to mortgage all his stuff to pay a bill to Wick Cutter, a terrible moneylender who lives in town who took advantage of Peter on interest rates.
Then Pavel hurt himself working and is now laid up in bed. Everyone says the Russians have bad luck.
One day Ántonia and her father come to the Burdens' to get some buttermilk. Before they leave, Russian Peter drives up. He says Pavel is very sick and wants to see Mr. Shimerda and Ántonia. Grandmother lets Jim go along as well, and gives him sandwiches and doughnuts to take.
Ántonia and Jim ride together in the back of the wagon and huddle for warmth.
Peter groans that Pavel might die. Jim looks up at the stars and wonders what influence they have on earthly events.
When they arrive, Pavel seems to be asleep. His breathing is labored. It's very windy outside and Jim can hear coyotes. Pavel cries out as though he's having a bad dream.
Ántonia tells Jim that Pavel is scared of wolves, because in his country the wolves eat people. Jim can't stop looking at the ghastly sight of Pavel. Peter mixes the sick man some water and whiskey. Pavel drinks it.
Finally Pavel tells Mr. Shimerda a long story in Russian which Jim cannot understand. Ántonia listens and holds Jim's hand the whole time. She tells Jim that the story is about wolves. Pavel gets all worked up as he tells it. He coughs up blood and then falls asleep.
Peter drives the guests home. On the way back, Ántonia repeats the story to Jim.
When Peter and Pavel were young men in Russia they were groomsmen for a friend getting married. After the wedding everyone had to travel by sledge over to the after-party. After the party everyone had to go home by sledge; by then it was late at night.
It was winter and there were lots of wolves everywhere. On the way home all the sledges were attacked by a huge pack of wolves.
Peter and Pavel were driving the sledge with the groom and bride in it, and they tried to get the groom to throw the bride over so as to lighten their load and let them outrun the wolves. When the groom refused, they threw both him and the bride overboard to save their own lives.
Peter and Pavel ended up being the only survivors, but they were then pariahs in their town and so they left and came to America. End of the story.
Pavel dies several days later. Peter buries him, sells all their stuff, and goes off to work as a cook. The Burdens buy some of the stuff he auctions off. Peter looks depressed the whole time. Supposedly he kissed his cow before it was sold, but Jim doesn't know if this is true or not. Before Peter leaves he eats the melons he had been saving for winter.
Afterwards, Mr. Shimerda gets very depressed now that his two friends are gone. He often goes out to the empty log house and sits in it alone.
Jim and Ántonia never repeat the story of the wolves to anyone; they get a strange sense of pleasure out of this. Jim often dreams that he is in a sledge pulled by horses, just like in the story.
The first snow comes in December. The pond freezes and the red grass pales. Jim looks at a circle in the grass where the Indians used to ride around and torture prisoners, according to Otto. But his grandfather says that they probably just trained their horses there.
Fuchs makes Jim a sleigh that he can use to ride around in the snow. (He's very handy because he was once apprenticed to a cabinetmaker.) Jim uses his sleigh to go to the post-office, and then he goes over to take Yulka and Ántonia for a ride.
Jim brings two hot bricks with him for warmth. The girls wear rabbit-skin hats. On the way, Jim looks at the landscape. The sky is blue and the prairie completely white. The trees are mostly dead.
The girls are cold but enjoying themselves; they make Jim drive all the way to Russian Peter's old house and joke about how they should all live there together.
It's cooler on the way home so Jim gives his comforter to Yulka. He drops the girls off at their house and goes straight home.
Jim ends up getting sick with quinsy and having to stay inside for two weeks.
During the winter Jim's kitchen is nice and warm. The men work outside in the day and come home in the evening. Jim starts reading The Swiss Family Robinson aloud to his grandmother, but he thinks his own adventurous life is more exciting than the fictional novel.
He decides that man's worst enemy is the cold. He admires his grandmother for keeping everyone cheerful in the winter months. She makes them chicken every Sunday and always bakes something sweet every day.
Staying warm and eating supper are the most important things in the winter. Jim wonders how the men can come in from the fields every day and be so tired from working and still do the household chores. After supper, everyone sits around trying to get warm.
On Saturday nights they pop corn or make taffy and Otto sings songs. Jim thinks both Otto and Jake are great men. Otto has done a lot more than Jake, but he can't read and he has a bad temper. Still he is very soft-hearted. Both he and Jake work very hard.
Sometimes at night they can all hear the sound of coyotes, which reminds them of animal stories they heard in their childhood. Sometimes Otto talks about the crazy characters he used to know. He tells the following story about when he came to America from Austria:
On the trip over he was supposed to look after a woman who was going to meet her husband in Chicago. She had two children with her and was pregnant. On the ship, she gave birth to triplets, and everyone eyed Otto suspiciously.
The Burdens don't hear anything from the Shimerdas for several weeks after the sleigh ride. One night, Otto tells them that he saw Mr. Shimerda out hunting, wearing his rabbit-skin hat and collar. He says that the family only has one overcoat between them and they take turns wearing it. The winter has been very tough on the Shimerdas.
Jake says that the oldest child never wears the coat, because he's so strong and the cold doesn't bother him.
Then he says that Ambrosch showed him three prairie dogs he'd shot the other day and wanted to know if they were edible. Jake told him no, but Ambrosch chose not to listen.
Grandmother doesn't like the idea of the Shimerdas eating prairie dogs, so grandfather tells her to make a trip over there the next day.
Fuchs explains that prairie dogs are fine to eat, it's just that they belong to the rat family so no one likes to.
The next morning Grandmother and Jake pack a basket of food to bring over to the Shimerdas. Grandmother wants him to bring an old dead rooster. She says that Mrs. Shimerda should have a hen house going by now.
Jake says he doesn't want Krajiek to get to eat any of the rooster.
Jim goes with Jake and his grandmother over to the Shimerdas'. When they arrive, they see Ántonia outside pumping water. She runs inside.
The visitors make their way to the doorway. Mrs. Shimerda greets them but she's talking very fast in Bohemian and doesn't seem very friendly. Mr. Shimerda is sitting behind the stove with Yulka, and Ántonia is washing dishes. Marek lies under the window by the door.
Mrs. Shimerda shows the visitors two barrels, one with rotting potatoes and one with a little bit of flour. She also shakes an empty coffee pot at them.
Jim's grandmother tries to be polite, and finally Jake brings in the hamper of food they brought. Mrs. Shimerda starts crying on the floor, so Grandmother asks Ántonia to help her unload the basket. She tells Grandmother not to pay attention to her mother, who is very sad.
Then Mr. Shimerda takes Grandmother by the arm and shows her a place where they've dug a hole in the earth and laid down straw and quilts. He explains that Yulka and Ántonia sleep in there because it's warm.
Grandmother tells Ántonia that she'll have a nicer house soon enough, and then she will forget these hard times.
Then Mr. Shimerda has Ántonia translate so he can talk to Grandmother. He says that in his old country, they were respected and lived well, and left for America with a thousand dollars in savings.
It was just that everything on the way cost more than they thought it would. If they make it to spring, he says, they should do very well for themselves. Ántonia explains that they're going to build themselves a real log house once the spring comes.
Grandmother encourages them while Jim plays on the floor with Yulka and Marek.
Mrs. Shimerda starts to calm down. When the visitors get ready to leave, she gives them a cup of weird-smelling stuff that she cooks with. Grandmother hesitates to accept it, but Ántonia assures her that it is very good and that you can put it on anything.
On the way home, Grandmother complains that the Shimerdas don't have great common sense. Jake says that Ambrosch is a good worker but he's mean.
When they get home, they can't figure out what the smelly stuff is. Narrator-Jim says that he later found out that they were dried mushrooms and probably came from Bohemia.
In the next week the land finally thaws out, and everything is slushy by New Year's. Jim starts doing his regular chores again. One morning Ántonia and Mrs. Shimerda come over; Ántonia's mother has never been in the Burdens' house before. She runs around looking at everything and ends up taking one of their pots on the grounds that they have several and she has none. Jim resents that his grandmother lets them take it.
After dinner Mrs. Shimerda tells Grandmother that if she had all the luxuries grandmother had, she would make much better food than Grandmother does. Jim isn't happy about this either.
Ántonia tells Jim that her father is very sad, because he misses his old country. He doesn't even play his violin anymore because he hates this country.
Jim responds that people who don't like this country should have stayed home.
Ántonia explains that her mother made them come to America, thinking they would make a lot of money here. Then they argue about whether or not Jim's grandparents ought to have to help the Shimerdas. Ántonia thinks they should help because, once Ambrosch is rich, he'll pay them back.
We learn that Ambrosch is the main man of the family. He calls the shots and they pin their hopes on his future.
After the Shimerdas leave, Jim expresses his anger at Mrs. Shimerda to his grandmother. She tells him that poverty brings out different things in people. Then she makes him read religious literature.
The weather remains good for three weeks. The bulls start fighting each other because they think it's spring. Fuchs has to pitchfork them apart.
On Jim's eleventh birthday, a giant blizzard begins. The men make themselves some shovels and Jim has to stay inside and let the men do the outdoor chores.
The next day the men shovel all morning to clear the snow. It's the biggest storm in ten years. They decide not to go out and feed the cattle. After dinner Jake and Otto dig a tunnel through the snow to the hen house so that Grandmother and Jim can walk there to get eggs. They don't finish the chores until 5pm.
On the 22nd Jim wakes up. He hears voices and knows that something has just happened. Jake and Otto are in the kitchen looking tired, and Grandmother keeps praying to God.
Finally, Grandfather explains that Mr. Shimerda is dead, and that Otto and Jake have been at the Shimerdas half the night. He shows him that Ambrosch is there asleep.
Everyone has breakfast and Jim knows better than to ask too many questions.
Otto tells Jim's grandfather that no one heard the gun go off. Grandmother wonders how such a sweet man could inflict this much trouble on the people he loved.
Fuchs says it was no accident, that the man shaved and got dressed all nice before he shot himself in the head. Since all he had was a long rifle, he had to use his big toe to pull the trigger.
But Jake isn't sure that Mr. Shimerda committed suicide. He says he found Peter Krajiek's axe there and that it fit the gash in the old man's face. Krajiek is afraid that if anyone finds that out they'll hang him.
But Fuchs is sure that it was a suicide.

Grandmother wants to go along with the men to the Shimerdas. She is particularly worried about Ántonia, because she thinks Ambrosch will take advantage of her willingness to work and not take good care of her.
Otto rides into town to get the priest and the coroner.
This leaves Jim with Ambrosch. Jim is surprised to see that he is devout and praying all the time, which is very unlike him.
Finally Grandfather, Grandmother, Jake, and Ambrosch set off for the Shimerdas, and Jim is left by himself in the house for the first time ever. He does some of the chores and tries to read a book. He thinks Robinson Crusoe's life is boring compared to his own adventures. So instead he thinks about Mr. Shimerda's soul.
Jim decides that homesickness killed Mr. Shimerda. He wonders whether the man's spirit will go back to Bohemia, or just rest there in Nebraska. He decides that the spirit is right here in the Burden house, but this doesn't frighten him.
Jim goes into the kitchen and thinks some more about Mr. Shimerda. He pictures what the man's life was like.
Everyone returns after dark. Grandmother goes to bed while Jake and Jim get supper ready. Jake explains that no one can touch the body until the coroner arrives, and now it's frozen stiff in the barn. The Shimerdas keep taking turns going into the barn in the cold to pray by the body. Ambrosch thinks it will take several years of prayers for them to get his soul out of purgatory.
This confuses Jim, because he likes to think that Mr. Shimerda's spirit is on its way back to Bohemia.
He thinks about how religious literature says that suicides are selfish and will be tormented. But he doesn't think that Mr. Shimerda was selfish, just unhappy.
Otto gets back from town the next day, exhausted from his trip. He reports that the coroner is coming later that day. He brought with him a young Bohemian eager to help his countrymen, named Anton Jelinek. He immediately thanks Grandmother for helping the Shimerdas.
Jim admires Anton. The young man goes to school in town.
At dinner Grandfather talks more than usual. He also likes Anton. The men discuss whether or not a priest will be willing to come to a suicide. Grandfather thinks no priest is necessary for Mr. Shimerda's soul to reach heaven, but Anton thinks prayer is necessary. He tells a story to explain:
When he was young he was an altar boy. During war with the Prussians lots of men died, and he used to go with the priest to say the last rites. Everyone in the camp got sick from cholera except for he and the priest, because they were carrying the holy sacrament with them.
Grandfather admires the young man's faith.
After dinner Anton starts trying to cut a path through the snow to the Shimerda's house so that a wagon can get through. Otto sets to making a coffin.
Jim admires Anton's long wolf skin coat, which was made from coyotes he shot and skinned himself. He watches Anton start to cut the path through the snow.
Grandfather rides off to the Shimerdas to meet the coroner there. Otto starts work on the coffin while Jim watches. He tells a story about the last time he made a coffin, when he was working in Colorado. An Italian died in a mine and he was the only guy around who knew how to make a coffin.
Everyone agrees that it's a good thing Otto is around to make the coffin.
Jim likes listening to the sounds of the coffin being made. He wonders why Otto didn't choose to become a cabinetmaker, since he seems to like carpentry so much. He even sings while he works.
At 4pm Mr. Bushy the postmaster stops by. He is another neighbor who is on his way to the Shimerdas' house. Several other neighbors stop by and Grandmother feeds them all cake. Everyone wants to know details about the suicide and they all discuss where Mr. Shimerda will be buried. They worry that a suicide won't be allowed to get buried in the Catholic graveyard.
Jim thinks it's nice that everyone is talking to each other. He listens to several more of Otto's stories, but we don't get to hear any of them in detail.
The postmaster stops back at the Burdens' again on his way home from the Shimerdas'. He reports that the Norwegian burial yard has refused to take in Mr. Shimerda's body. This angers Grandmother.
Then Grandfather returns with Anton and the coroner. The coroner thinks that Krajiek killed Mr. Shimerda, but Grandfather has talked him into letting that possibility go. Also, Krajiek is acting very guilty.
At supper everyone continues to talk about where they should bury Mr. Shimerda. Ambrosch and Mrs. Shimerda want to bury him on the corner of their land. Grandfather tells Ambrosch that someday there will be a crossroads there, but Ambrosch doesn't care. Grandfather seems to think there is some superstition in Bohemia about burying a suicide at cross-roads.
Spring arrives. It is different than the springs that Jim are used to in Virginia, because there aren't a lot of blooming flowers and budding trees. Everyone burns the grass so as to get rid of the old stuff before the new grass grows.
The Shimerda family now has a log house which was built in March with help from the neighbors. Mrs. Shimerda buys a cow from Grandfather, paying him 10 dollars and owing him 15.
In April Jim rides up to the Shimerdas' and is greeted by Yulka, to whom he is giving reading lessons. Mrs. Shimerda grills Jim for info about what the men are doing in the fields. Narrator-Jim expresses dislike for her.
He watches her cook and thinks it's funny that she wraps food in a comforter to keep it warm.
When the workday is over Ántonia comes in from the fields. Jim sees how much she has grown in the last eight months. She's wearing her father's old boots. She is very tan and muscular. She immediately starts telling Jim how much work she did that day. She says she wants to do more ploughing than Jake.
Jim says that he's there because Grandmother wants Ántonia to go to school next week. But Ántonia says he doesn't have time for learning, because she has to help around the barn like a man. But Jim sees that she is crying.
Jim worries that Ántonia will end up boastful like her mother.
Ántonia asks Jim to never forget her father, and he agrees he won't.
Jim stays for supper with the Shimerdas. Mrs. Shimerda complains that the cow Jim's grandfather sold her doesn't give as much milk as he said it would. Ambrosch complains that Jim's grandfather accused him of breaking a saw that he didn't. Jim knows this to be a lie. He also doesn't like that Ántonia is eating like a man.
He rides home. He hasn't seen much of Ántonia lately. He doesn't like that she's acting like a man in the fields, but Grandfather says that she will be a lot of help to her man someday.
Jim thinks about how Mr. Shimerda used to call out "My Ántonia!" (1.17.last paragraph).