Parts XIII – XVI
In a few weeks the weather warms and there is a thaw. Ántonia and her mother come to the Burden house to visit. Mrs. Shimerda admires their home and complains about her lack of resources, getting Mrs. Burden to give her a pot out of pity. She seems to try this strategy with several other things in the house with no success.
Ántonia tells Jim that her father is sick because he misses their old country. She says that he refuses to play his violin in the United States, even when she begs him. Jim, annoyed with Mrs. Shimerda’s rudeness despite being rescued by the Burdens, says that perhaps he should never have come. Ántonia admits that he did not want to, and that her mother convinced him to do it. Her mother wanted to come to help give Ambrosch and Ántonia more opportunities. Ambrosch, it seems, was an important part of the family.
When the Shimerdas’ leave, Jim confesses that he hopes Mrs. Shimerda never visits again. His grandmother seems much more patient, and says that it’s difficult to know what desperation can do to a person, and she suggests that Mrs. Shimerda is more concerned about her children than looking merely to improve herself.
The warm weather lasts a few more weeks, and convinces the livestock that spring has arrived. But a big snowstorm hits in the middle of January. The Burdens are forced to dig their way out of the house, and they dig tunnels through the snow to the barn to fetch eggs and care for the animals.
On the morning of the 22nd, Jim wakes up to his grandmother wailing. He finds out that Mr. Shimerda has killed himself, and that the Shimerda family is struggling to deal with the loss. Apparently, Mr. Shimerda shot himself in his family barn, and Ambrosch found him. Ambrosch came to the Burden house for help, and Jake and Otto were the next people on the scene. Otto says that Mr. Shimerda took extra care to wash and prepare himself after dinner, and that he took his gun and told his daughter that he was going out to hunt rabbits. Then he went to his barn, laid down in the cot that he usually slept in, and shot himself. Jake speculates that Krajiek might have done it and arranged the scene to look like a suicide, but Otto and Grandfather point out that the evidence suggests otherwise. Jake found Krajiek’s hatchet and claims that the blade of the weapon fit the wound in Mr. Shimerda’s face, but Otto mentions that he saw evidence of the blast on the ceiling.
Otto is sent to town for the priest and the coroner, and Mrs. Burden says that she would like to bring food and comfort to the Shimerdas. She mentions that Mr. Shimerda appeared not to be thinking of Ántonia, who was now left without protection from her brother and mother. Both Mr. and Mrs. Burden set out for the Shimerdas’ home, along with Jake and Ambrosch, who stayed the night. Jim is left alone in the house, and he does his best to care for the house in their absence. He becomes convinced that Mr. Shimerda’s spirit has come to rest in the house, and he tries to pay his respects to Mr. Shimerda by remembering everything that he knows about him. Eventually, the rest of the Burden family returns. Jake tells Jim about the Shimerda house, and how no one can touch the body until the coroner has examined the scene. Jake says that the body has frozen solid, and that the family keeps visiting it to pray. Jake says that Ambrosch had been very worried about finding a priest because he was concerned about his father’s soul, and that the family would have to pray hard to help get their father’s soul out of purgatory.
When Otto returns from town, he says that the coroner will arrive later that day, but that the priest will be delayed because he was off visiting another part of the parish and, apparently, the trains are not running. A young Bohemian, Anton Jelinek, comes with Otto back to the Burdens. Anton says that he would have come to visit the Shimerdas earlier except for the demands of his work and education. Anton confesses that he also believes that Mr. Shimerda has committed a sin and that he needs excessive prayer to help his soul out of purgatory. Mr. Burden disagrees and explains that he believes that people can’t help the dead that way. Anton says that he disagrees because of what he has seen. Curious, the family asks him to explain. He tells a story about his experience as a boy in a war with the Prussians, walking around a military camp with a priest, administering communion to the soldiers sick and dying of cholera. He says that neither he nor the priest were affected by the illness, and he believes that the sacrament protected him.
Anton is put to work clearing a path through the snow to the Shimerdas’, while Otto sets about making a coffin for Mr. Shimerda. Otto tells the story of working on a mine in Colorado where he was asked to make a coffin for a small Italian man who had tried diving into a canyon and hadn’t survived. Mrs. Burden remarks that coffin-making is a valuable and rare skill, and Otto says that he wonders sometimes if anyone will be around to make one for him. Jim notices that Otto seems to enjoy making the coffin and working with the wood, and Jim admires his craftsmanship.
Mr. Bushy, the postmaster, stops in that day to get warm on his way to the Shimerdas. He mentions that news has spread of the suicide, and several other neighbors arrive soon, hoping for gossip and information about the planned burial site. There is some speculation that Mr. Shimerda might be buried in a Norwegian graveyard that is close. Jim notices an unusual talkativeness among his family and their visitors. Mrs. Burden finds out that the Norwegian graveyard has decided to refuse to allow Mr. Shimerda to be buried there, and she is upset about their decision. In the evening, the coroner stops by the Burden house to stay on his way back to town, and he echoes Jake’s view that Krajiek was acting like a guilty man. The evidence was clear, but Krajiek’s behavior seemed to suggest that he felt responsible.
The discussion returns to Mr. Shimerda’s burial place, and Jim finds out that Mrs. Shimerda is insisting that her dead husband be buried at the very tip of the southwest corner of their land. Friends and neighbors, Jim learns, have explained that a road will eventually be built there, and she continues to insist.
Anton and Ambrosch dig Mr. Shimerda’s grave where Mrs. Shimerda insists that it be. Jim visits the Shimerdas with the rest of his family, and meets Ántonia for the first time since her father’s death. She runs to him and cries on his shoulder, while Mrs. Shimerda watches the people arrive. Many of the women shelter from the falling snow in the Shimerdas’ house, and people seem to want to hurry the burial because of the threat of another storm. Jim catches a glimpse of Mr. Shimerda’s body before he is put in the coffin; the head is bandaged to hide the gunshot wound. Mrs. Shimerda puts an open prayer-book against the body, and the family comes to the body one by one and makes the sign of the cross on the bandaged head. Yulka holds back until her mother pushes her up to the body, trying to force her to touch it, but Mrs. Burden intervenes. Mr. Burden signals for the coffin to be nailed shut. The coffin is loaded on a wagon and taken to the grave, where the people gather. Anton confers with Mrs. Shimerda and then asks Mr. Burden to say a prayer in English for Mr. Shimerda. He says a short prayer, mentioning that it was not appropriate for people to concern themselves with God’s decision about Mr. Shimerda’s soul, and that the widow and her children needed extra care in his absence. Mrs. Burden asks Otto to start a hymn, and he does.
Jim, the narrator, briefly mentions the fate of the grave at the corner of the property. The roads that would later be built cross near the grave, but swerve to avoid it. The grave is marked by a small cross, and is overgrown with grass that isn’t tended. Jim says that it is his favorite place in the area.
Analysis, Part XIII-XVI
Mr. Shimerda is the last protection for Ántonia against the abuse of her family, and Mrs. Burden’s apprehension about Ántonia’s fate is well-founded. Mrs. Shimerda and Ambrosch have no concern for her future, and consider her another tool to use to achieve their success.
Mr. Shimerda’s death also seems to be written as a tragedy. He is a noble, intelligent man with a gift for music who comes to a strange country to help his children, only to destroy himself. His hands—the distinctive tools of his musical talents—are the only part of his body that are visible at his burial. His face doesn’t seem to matter as much as his hands do, and that emphasis seems to suggest both what was lost (he was a great musician) and why he killed himself (he was the wrong kind of person for farm work).