On Christmas morning, Mr. Burden leads the family in prayer, and afterward they sit down to a meal of waffles and sausage. Jake mentions that the Shimerdas were very happy to receive gifts from the Burdens. In the afternoon, Mr. Shimerda arrives to thank the Burdens for all of their kindnesses. They persuade him to stay for supper, and he stays until well after dark.
By New Year’s Day, a thaw has reduced the snow to slush. Soon after, when Mrs. Shimerda and Ántonia visit the Burdens, Ántonia and Jim have a fierce argument about the Shimerdas’ situation and attitude. The mild weather continues until late January, when, on Jim’s eleventh birthday, a violent snowstorm blankets the countryside and brings work on the farm to a grinding halt.
My Ántonia proposes much bolder theories about gender than most other novels of its time. Not only does Cather, a female author, write in the first-person voice of a male narrator, Jim, but Jim himself chooses to spend very little time with the Shimerda boys. Instead, he focuses his attention almost exclusively on Ántonia and Yulka. Even in the face of a language barrier, a young frontier boy would be more likely to spend more time with his male peers than with his female peers. But Jim’s sensitive nature and Ántonia’s tomboyish eagerness for adventure make the two natural companions. If the characters of a novel can be thought of as aspects of their creator’s persona, Ántonia and Jim are certainly complementary components of Cather. While growing up, Cather did not fit within traditional gender boundaries; she cut her hair short and called herself William. Throughout her life, furthermore, she shunned heterosexual -relationships and socially accepted gender norms. Likewise, the relationship between Ántonia and Jim breaks—or rather, ignores—the conventions of gender relations.
Jim reveals an especially strong desire to identify with his fellow human beings across all kinds of boundaries and differences. This urge to connect is tied closely to Jim’s mystical belief that a divine presence is controlling his fate. As he rides in the back of a horse-drawn wagon, staring up at the stars, he speaks on behalf of Ántonia when he asserts that “though we had come from such different parts of the world, in both of us there was some dusky superstition that those shining groups have their influence on what is and what is not to be.” Although Jim feels increasingly alienated from the world, he is comforted by the discovery that Ántonia, despite coming from a culture entirely different from his own, shares his belief about the stars and fate.
Although Jim is not as displaced as the Bohemians or the Russians, he too is an immigrant of sorts, and his desire to identify with others leads him to adapt the immigrant experience to his own life. After he hears Pavel’s story of the wolves, for instance, Jim repeatedly imagines himself as a sledge driver in flight, “dashing through a country that looked something like Nebraska and something like Virginia.” When he makes homemade picture books for Ántonia and Yulka at Christmas, he uses resources that he brought from Virginia, which he refers to as “my ‘old country.’ ”
This desire for shared experience also manifests itself in Jim’s efforts to bring the legends and stories of the Bible closer to his own experience. As Mr. Burden reads from the Book of Matthew on Christmas morning, the story of Jesus’ birth strikes Jim as seeming like “something that had happened lately, and near at hand.”