The character of Jim Burden experiences several kinds of cultural collisions that strongly affect his personal development. Because he is the novel’s protagonist and the first-person narrator of the primary narrative, his experiences shape the entire work. Jim experiences one major transition after he is orphaned and goes to live with his grandparents. When they take him from Virginia to Nebraska, where they begin a new life as Midwestern farmers, the change of regions has a strong effect on Jim. He is at first shocked and overwhelmed by the vastness of the plains landscape, but soon grows to love it profoundly.
Along with the severe change of landscape and lifestyle in Nebraska, another cultural collision is Jim’s initial exposure to many people from varied national backgrounds. He gives the impression that the family’s social circle was more homogeneous back East. As a child, Jim has relative ease in interacting with these various characters, including but not limited to Antonia.
Other collisions occur as Jim becomes progressively more urbanized. At first he remains in Nebraska, but in urban settings rather than the farm. The initial change to town life is shocking, as he cannot relate to the townspeople. In addition, Antonia’s work as a servant makes him realize just how large the social distance is between their families.
Jim’s move back East causes further cultural clashes. He begins to see that the discomfort of moving is due to his personal characteristics, not an externally imposed effect. The more he identifies with the plains region of his upbringing, the more he romanticizes the past and becomes steeped in nostalgia. This nostalgia, including the affection and perhaps love he felt for Antonia, permeates the entire novel.