Ten-year-old Jim Burden is sent to live with his grandparents in rural Nebraska when his parents die. Jim and Jake Marpole, one of the Burdens' farm-hands, travel to Nebraska on the railroad together from the hills of Virginia. An immigrant family, the Shimerdas, is traveling to their destination as well. Like most other immigrants, the Shimerdas left their native Bohemiaand moved to America for a better life. Like Jim, the Shimerdas have no one to turn to in a new, frightening place.
The next afternoon, at the farm, Jim’s grandmother, Mrs Burden, awakens him and prepares a bath for him. After his bath, Jim explores his new surroundings while Mrs Burden prepares the evening meal. At supper, Jake discusses Virginia with the Burdens. Later, Otto tellsstories of ponies and cattle to Jim, and the evening concludes with some family prayers. In the morning, Jim begins to take in the landscape around the farm. When he accompanies Mrs Burden to the garden to pick potatoes for supper, he stays behind after her and sits quietly among the pumpkins.
On Sunday, the Burdens head out in the wagon to greet their new Bohemian neighbours. MrsBurden explains that someone took advantage of the Shimerdas when they decided to move to Black Hawk by overcharging them for a farmhouse not suited to the harsh Nebraska winters. Mrs Shimerda greets the Burdens upon arrival, and Mrs Burden presents her with some loaves of bread. They exchange greetings, and, as the adults begin talking, Jim an Antonia run off to play with her youngest sister,Yulka, trailing behind. As they wander through the grass, Jim teaches Antonia a few English words. When the Burdens prepare to leave, Mr Shimerda entreats Mrs Burden to teach English to Antonia.
As the autumn season goes on, Antonia and Jim's relationship turns into friendship. The country that Jim first found anxious now "seemed to [him] the roads to freedom." Book 1, Chapter 4, pg.21. Jim becomes intimately acquainted with the country: the animals, the vegetation, the weather, and the conditions. Antonia shares Jim's feelings about the country and his experiences of learning about the country. Antonia is eager and enthusiastic about learning to speak English. Jim and his grandparents are saddened for the Shimerdas, whose life on the farm is undoubtedly difficult.Despite the many hardships, Antonia remains cheerful and optimistic. She knows that she and her family must sacrifice much of their happiness to make do in a new, unfamiliar country.
Antonia and her father are thrilled by the discovery of their Russian neighbors, Peter and Pavel. Mr. Shimerda has been lonely since he and his family immigrated to America, and his newfound friends brightenhis spirits. Jim learns from Antonia that the Russian language is very similar to Bohemian, and that Mr. Shimerda, Peter, and Pavel reminisce about the Old World they had left behind. While Pavel is quick to pin suspicion on people, Peter is friendly and courteous. Yet they have been friends for so long, they work well together despite their differences.
Jim realizes that Antoniais "most comfortable only when we were tucked down on the baked earth, in the full blaze of the sun." Book 1, Chapter 6, pg. 27 The two of them spend hours playing and running around the prairie after Jim finishes teaching Antonia her lesson. Antonia often tells Jim stories about her life back in Bohemia. During one of these times, Antonia finds and treasures a frail grasshopper and lays it on topof her hair to keep it safe. Jim can never get used to the glorious autumn afternoons he spends with Antonia in the country. He and Antonia believe that the "miles of copper-red grass were drenched in sunlight that was stronger and fiercer than at any other time of day," for "that hour always had the exultation of victory, of triumphant ending, like a hero's death." Book 1, Chapter 6, pg. 28....