One of the most obvious cultural contrasts is between the Burdens and the Shimerdas. The Burdens are prosperous and affluent; they are used to the prairie and farm life. The Shimerdas, on the other hand, come from Europe and are ill-prepared for their new life. While the Burdens value generosity, hard work, and honesty, the Shimerdas are skeptical and mistrustful, especially Mrs Shimerda, who is grateful for the Burdens' assistance, but always suspicious that they are not doing everything they could. The Burdens' optimism about life is contrasted with Mr Shimerda's unhappiness in his new home. Unlike the Burdens, Mr Shimerda is a cultured man, and misses the intellectual stimulation of his friends in Europe.
Jim's attraction to the Shimerdas and Antonia in particular is founded in part on his understanding that the Shimerdas have something his own family lacks. His writing is an expression of his appreciation for Mr Shimerda's cultured upbringing, but also a kind of celebration of Antonia's free spirited-ness.