The following day, after dinner, Jim leaves the Cuzaks. The whole family gathers to see him off as he departs, and Jim pulls away in the buggy as Ántonia waves her apron in farewell by the windmill.
In Black Hawk the next day, Jim is disappointed by the unfamiliar town, and is hard-pressed to occupy himself until the night express train arrives. Toward evening, Jim walks out beyond the outskirts of town and finds himself at home again. In his wanderings, he comes upon the first bit of the old road that leads out to the country farms. Although the track has largely been plowed under, Jim easily recognizes the way. He sits down by the overgrowth and watches the haystacks glowing in the sunlight.
With twenty years gone by since their last encounter, it is no surprise that Ántonia fails to recognize Jim immediately when he arrives at her farm. Because of the interval in their acquaintance, it also follows that Jim’s description of Ántonia should be an odd mixture of the familiar and the strange. He refers to her in one breath as “this woman” and in the next insists that her eyes could be none other than her own.
As the two warm up to each other, the awkwardness of lost time fades into the background, and Ántonia and Jim begin to enjoy each other’s company in their old easy way. As Jim remembers, with the face-to-face encounter “the changes grew less apparent to me, her identity stronger.” Still, Ántonia does not expect to find Jim childless, and this fact throws him into stark contrast with Ántonia, a mother to a large family. The difference in their domestic status owes perhaps to the difference in their environments: Jim, as an urban white-collar worker, has less need to rear children than the poor, farm-bound Cuzaks, who need all the labor they can get.
Ántonia is as invested in her relationship with the landscape as ever, as demonstrated by her carefully cultivated orchard. She endows the trees around her with human qualities, declaring much as Jim does earlier in his childhood that she loves them “as if they were people” and explaining that as she cared for them in their first growth “they were on my mind like children.” Jim quickly reintegrates himself into such a landscape-oriented life in the countryside, and feels as he milks the cows with Ántonia’s sons that “everything was as it should be.”
In bringing out a box of photographs to display, Ántonia returns to a tangible resource that provokes a flood of memories. By educating her children in the tales of her past, she has made her past a part of her present, and the photographs help the memory of those old stories to live on. Memory lives largely on the strength of images, photographic or otherwise, and in recalling his feelings for Ántonia, Jim runs through a series of pictures from the past in his own head. At the same time, he finds that Ántonia “still had that something which fires the imagination,” and is every bit as moved by the images of his return visit as he has been all these years by the pictures from his childhood.