Why does Mrs. Shimerda resent the Burdens at times in My Antonia?

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dymatsuoka | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Mrs. Shimerda resents the Burdens at times because they are well-off enough to live comfortably, and she and her family have nothing.  As Grandmother kindly explains to Jim,

"a body never knows what traits poverty might bring out in 'em.  It makes a woman grasping to see her children want for things" (Book 1, Chapter 13).

Although Jim's grandmother takes a tolerant attitude towards Mrs. Shimerda's often rude behavior, her evaluation of the family's situation is only partly right.  Mrs. Shimerda is a shrewd woman who was the driving force in the decision to bring the family to America.  Although the Shimerdas enjoyed a good life in Bohemia, living comfortably and even saving some money, Mrs. Shimerda wanted more, especially for her son Ambrosh.  As Antonia explains,

"All the time she say: 'America big country; much money, much land for my boys, much husband for my girls'.  My papa, he cry for leave his old friends...but my mama, she want Ambrosch for be rich with many cattle" (Book 1, Chapter 13).

It must indeed hurt Mrs. Shimerda greatly to see her family suffer so, living in a hovel with almost nothing to eat.  But she is by nature selfish and acquisitive; as exemplified by the facts that she has pressured her husband to leave the homeland that he loves even though it eventually destroys him, and she takes the only "nice bed" in the hovel, "with pillows from (the family's) own geese in Bohemie" while her daughters huddle in caves at the back of the dwelling like burrowing badgers (Book 1, Chapter 10).  Mrs. Shimerda is essentially jealous of the Burdens.  Although she does show some gratitude for the generous help given her family by Jim and his grandparents, she is bitter that they who appear to have so much do not do more to help their struggling neighbors.  Antonia expresses the thought behind her mother's behavior, demanding of Jim angrily,

"Your grandfather is rich...why he not help my papa?" (Book 1, Chapter 13).

Mrs. Shimerda is frustrated and bitter that even the constant help and hospitality extended to the Shimerdas by the Burdens is not enough to get her and her family to where they want to be.

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