Parts IX – XII
The snow begins to fall in Black Hawk, and the falling snow seems to bring out an old circular impression near the Burdens’ farm that Jim says was left by Native Americans training horses. When the snow becomes passable on horse, Otto Fuchs rigs a sleigh for Jim to run errands with. He takes Ántonia and Yulka out for a ride, and they stay out in the cold too long. Jim lends Yulka his coat and drops the two young women off at their home, but Yulka forgets to give the coat back, and Jim becomes sick and is forced to stay inside for two weeks because of it.
Being forced to stay inside for so long gives Jim a new appreciation for his grandmother, who seems to work very hard to make their home a warm and delightful place, with special attention to her cooking. Jim also tells more about Otto Fuchs and Jake Marpole, both of whom seem to be hard-working and good-natured yet destined never to prosper. Otto is much older and is full of stories of his exploits in the West. Jim tells a short tale about Otto’s trip across the Atlantic and how he decided to come to the assistance of a woman traveling with small children. The woman gives birth to triplets along the way, and Otto struggles to help her cope with so many babies while also being blamed, somehow, for the woman’s challenges.
Some time later, Otto mentions that he happened upon Mr. Shimerda, who was out hunting rabbits. He tells Jim that the Shimerda family has only one overcoat, and they take turns wearing it – except for the “crazy one,” Marek, who runs in the snow with no coat on. Otto says that Mr. Shimerda showed him three prairie dogs that he had killed, and that Otto had tried to convince him that they were not good to eat. Mr. Shimerda had not seemed convinced, though, and had gone home with the prairie dogs for his family to eat.
The Burdens decide that Grandmother, Jake, and Jim need to pay the Shimerdas a visit, and that they should bring some food. They find the Shimerdas in desperate circumstances, beginning with Ántonia outside in the snow, fetching water from their pump with no coat on. Ántonia warns the family of the Burdens’ arrival, and Mrs. Shimerda opens the door to them. She is crying and talking with some bitterness in her native language, with her feet tied up in rags. They enter the Shimerdas’ home while Jake tends the horses and promises to bring the supplies when he finishes. Mrs. Shimerda shows Jim and Mrs. Burden her empty food barrels and shakes her empty coffee pot at them angrily, suggesting that they should be ashamed for failing to help. The entire family is present, except for Ambrosch. Ántonia is washing dishes. Jake enters with the food, and Mrs. Shimerda breaks down. Mrs. Burden ignores her and calls to Ántonia to help unload the food. Jake returns with a bag of potatoes, and Mrs. Burden asks about a cellar or place to store food, but the family appears to have no “proper” place for this. One of the nearly empty barrels of food they had, it appears, was a gift from someone in town—rotting potatoes that were being thrown away.
Mr. Shimerda steps forward to greet Mrs. Burden, and he invites her to see the small hole in the back of the sod house, dug into the side of the hill, where Ántonia and Yulka sleep. Mrs. Burden is a little taken aback at how crude it is, but she acknowledges that it is warm. Through Ántonia as translator, Mr. Shimerda speaks at some length about his family history and their life in Europe. He tells Mrs. Burden that they were a respectable family in Bohemia, and that he made a respectable living. They had left with a considerable sum of money, but that they had been cheated and unlucky most of the way to Black Hawk and had ended up with very little. While Mrs. Burden is discussing plans for improving the Shimerda farm with Mr. Shimerda, Marek seeks out Jim, and he shows Jim his webbed fingers and tries to be an agreeable host. Before the Burdens leave, Mrs. Shimerda recovers herself and presents a small cup of something very valuable to Mrs. Burden. The Shimerdas seem to attach great value to the material, and say that it is an excellent addition to meat sauces. On the way home, Mrs. Burden says that the Shimerdas seem to lack “horse-sense,” and that they will require a great deal of help. Jake gives his impression of Ambrosch as a hard worker but a little mean. When the Burdens return home, Mrs. Burden cannot find any value in the brown chips they were given and throws them into the fire. Jim says that he tasted one, and that he later figured out that they were dried mushrooms.
The Burdens are snowed in for Christmas and unable to make it to town to purchase Christmas gifts, so they make gifts from materials around the house, including a book for the Shimerdas. Jake digs his way to a small cedar tree and brings it back into the house to make into a Christmas tree, which they all decorate.
On Christmas day, Mr. Burden reads from the Bible, and Jim mentions how powerful his simple prayers are. Jake talks about the joy that their gifts to the Shimerdas had brought, and how kindly they had responded. Otto writes a letter to his mother, and he struggles with writing in his native language. Mr. Shimerda arrives for a visit and to thank the Burdens for their gifts. He visits for several hours, obviously enjoying the relative peace of the Burdens’ house. He bows before the Christmas tree and makes the family somewhat uncomfortable that Mr. Burden, a devout Protestant, might object to his Catholic zeal, but Mr. Burden seems to accept Mr. Shimerda’s demonstration. Mr. Shimerda stays for dinner, and Mr. Burden says, on Mr. Shimerda’s departure, that “The prayers of all good people are good.”
Analysis, Parts IX-XII
The Shimerdas are struggling in their first winter in Black Hawk, and the Burdens seem to be patiently doing their best to help them survive. Mrs. Burden’s comments and Mrs. Shimerda’s quick temper hint at a future conflict, and Mr. Shimerda becomes even more of an enigma after the Christmas scene. Mr. Shimerda is not happy, and circumstances seem to keep reminding him just how unhappy he really is. He reaches out to Mrs. Burden to try to gain her sympathy and her respect, and she seems only able to mention the family’s lack of “horse-sense.” Apparently, she is not impressed by his stories of past success and would rather help him plan a henhouse.
Ántonia continues to be the functional center of the family, and it is important that she is the only member of the family who seems to be doing anything when the Burdens come to visit. Not only does she have to fetch the water, but she has to wash the dishes as well.