Book III: Lena Lingard
Parts I – IV
Jim begins his studies at the University of Nebraska, and he falls under the care of Gaston Cleric, an inspiring Latin scholar. The University is only a few years old at the time, and there are no dormitories. Jim rents a room from an old couple in Lincoln, and his bedroom is a converted closet. The University itself has a kind of ramshackle assortment of students and professors.
Jim stays through the summer after his first year, finishing a Greek requirement. His mentor, Cleric, stays behind in Lincoln as well because of health concerns, and the two spend a great deal of time together. While Jim greatly admires his teacher, he realizes that cannot lose himself in ideas like his teacher can. He knows that he will never be a scholar.
In his sophomore year, while he is musing on Virgil’s thoughts about bringing the Muse into his neglected corner of the Italian countryside, Lena Lingard comes to see him. She has established herself as a dressmaker in Lincoln, and has been there for several months. She is dressed well, and she says that her business is doing well. She says that she plans to build a new house for her mother this summer, and that she hopes to furnish it the following summer.
When Jim remarks how proud of herself she must be for her success, Lena brings up Ántonia and how she brags about Jim. Ántonia has found a position working for Mrs. Carpenter at the hotel, and has re-started her relationship with Larry Donovan. In fact, they are engaged. Lena and Jim make arrangements to go to the theatre together, and she hurries out, worried about Jim’s landlord disapproving of the visit. She says that she wants to write to Ántonia to say that she has come to see him, and to be able to tell her that she found Jim studying, and left him studying.
Jim and Lena attend several plays together, but one particular play makes a strong impression—Camille, an old French story about an aristocratic young man who falls in love with a peasant woman, who, on the advice of her lover’s father, leaves him, only to find herself hated and scorned by her lover, and eventually dying, alone, of consumption.
Jim and Lena start having breakfast together on the weekend, and he becomes familiar with her home and her neighbors. He starts to appreciate her success, though he doesn’t completely understand it. She seems to have a natural ability for clothing, though she tends to charge more than planned and takes longer than planned. She talks about Ole Benson, and how harmless he was.
Jim starts to cause conflict in Lena’s boarding house with his regular visits. Lena lives across the hall from a Polish violin-teacher named Ordinsky, who leaves his door open so that Lena can hear him. Her landlord is a widowed Southerner named Colonel Raleigh, who was making occasional improvements to Lena’s apartment as an excuse to come over and talk to her. One night, Ordinsky came to her door and offered to get rid of the Colonel if he was causing Lena problems. While she thought the Colonel was a little long-winded, she didn’t want to start conflict. When Jim was having dinner with Lena, Ordinsky knocked and asked if he could borrow some safety pins. He has torn his dress shirt, and Lena offers to fix it for him quickly. While she is doing this, Jim and Ordinsky are forced to make small talk. Ordinsky starts to hint that Jim might be taking advantage of Lena, and he tells Ordinsky that they are old friends, and that there is nothing more to their simple dinner together. Ordinsky apologizes, and treats him differently after that. Ordinsky writes an editorial for the local paper about the degenerate musical tastes in the town, and asks Jim to take it to the paper for him, which he does.
Jim starts to notice that his studies have become less important, and he is losing interest and not getting anything done. His professor, Cleric, notices, and invites him along to Harvard, where Cleric has just been offered a job. Cleric doesn’t feel that Jim can recover from the distraction and thinks he should start over at Harvard. He agrees. Jim goes to see Lena, and he brings up her future. He tells her that he doesn’t want her to marry someone like Raleigh or Ordinsky. She tells Jim that she will never marry, and she explains that she doesn’t like the idea of having a husband, partly because of her experience in a difficult family as a child. Jim eventually confesses why he came, and tells Lena that she is the reason. She feels a little remorse for having distracted him, but they part on good terms.
Analysis, Parts I – IV
Again, Lena works as a clear contrast to Ántonia. Though Ántonia is clearly much more selfless and concerned for Jim’s well-being, she seems to lack clear thinking about herself and her own situation. Lena’s information about Ántonia’s plans seems valuable, and it might help Ántonia to know and accept what her friends tell her about Donovan, for example.