Mr. Shimerda’s Gun
Mr. Shimerda’s gun is a simple symbol of the strange value that Mr. Shimerda puts on things. The gun doesn’t work very well; it is heavy and old, and could be easily replaced by another weapon that would produce better results. But because it has sentimental value for him, he prefers to keep and use this old gun. It serves as a link to his old life, and thus symbolizes all that he has left behind. It suggests how wrenching it was for immigrants from Europe to leave their native lands, and how lonely life could be for them in their newly adopted country.
Though the rattlesnake is enormous and impressive as a trophy, its vulnerability and the ease with which Jim kills it make his achievement a less impressive rite of passage to manhood than it might at first appear. Ántonia’s quick appropriation of the story, with her many embellishments, deny him some of the real glory of the kill, too. Ántonia takes away all of the fun of the telling, so that it becomes her adventure more than his.
Coronado’s sword, found by a farmer and acquired by Mr. Harling, is a buried and forgotten relic of a failed quest for fortune and glory. The Spanish explorer Coronado, according to the history books Jim has read, did not get as far north as Nebraska, but turned back in Kansas. However, Jim believes he had been along the very river that he and Ántonia are sitting beside. Coronado
is a romantic figure of adventure, and references to him echo the similar quests of people like Mrs. Shimerda and Ambrosch, as well as Otto and Jake, who travel west to find their fortunes. While Coronado failed to find what he was looking for, he nevertheless managed to become famous for trying. But the presence of his sword is a reminder of the dangers that lurk for those who would make their mark in this region.
Mr. Shimerda’s Grave
Mr. Shimerda’s grave, at the corner of the property, symbolizes a way of planting something from the Old World in the New, making a connection between the two places, an intersection of significant places and roads. The roads that are built later honor the presence of the grave by curving to avoid it, leaving the grave like a little island. Mr. Shimerda’s life may have been a personal failure, but in death he comes to symbolize something. He is an important part of Jim’s memory of his childhood.
The misunderstood but valuable contribution of the Shimerdas to the Burdens, the dried mushrooms represent the inability of people like the Burdens to value and make use of the Old World. Mrs. Burden, seeing no use for them, just throws them away. But for the Shimerdas, the mushrooms were a tasty addition to meat sauces. The metaphor suggests how people adapt to their new environment in various ways and at various speeds. Some cling on to the old ways; others innovate in the new land. Without making the Burdens look hardheaded and xenophobic, this metaphor shows that they are sometimes quick to dismiss the strange ways of their foreign neighbors.
Mr. Shimerda’s Gun