What is the relationship between the Shimerda and the Burden households in "My Antonia"? What kind of relationship do they share?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Shimerdas and the Burdens are neighbors, with the Burdens acting as mentors to the Shimerdas, who have just migrated to Nebraska, speak no English, and know nothing about farming.

When the Burdens meet the Shimerdas, the Shimerdas are living in a cave dug into the side of a hill.  Dependent upon an unscrupulous countryman named Peter Krajiek, they have been cheated in their purchase of their land and have no money left with which to improve it.  The Burdens bring them some provisions, and Mr. Shimerda asks Mrs. Burden to teach Antonia English. 

It is Jim who actually ends up teaching Antonia to read and speak English, and the two strike up a fast friendship.  Their families become friends as well, with the Burdens doing what they can to help the Shimerdas survive on their land and the Shimerdas always attempting to give of what they have in return. 

There is a limit as to how much the Burdens can do to help the Shimerdas improve their lives, however, and during the harsh winter, tensions arise between the families.  Antonia and her mother begin to complain about how the Burdens seem to have so much compared to them, and Jim becomes irritated by their attitude.  After Mr. Shimerda dies and Antonia must spend all her time working on the farm, the families do not interact as much and grow apart, but on the whole they remain comfortable, albeit distant, neighbors.

rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Burdens befriend the Shimerdas, and the Shimerdas come to Nebraska ill-equipped for life on the prairie. While the families are on friendly terms, there is a tension that arises between them. This is partially cultural: Mr. Shimerda, as a cultured European, can never reconcile himself to his new circumstances of living in a house Mrs. Shimerda calls “a badger hole”; his family’s poverty in this new land, especially when compared to the Burdens’ relative plenty, is an irritant. There is also the problem of isolation: the Shimerdas cannot speak English very well, and the countryman they would turn to for help (Krajiek) is not trustworthy. The Burdens become a trusted alternative to Krajiek, but the fact that the only other Bohemian in the area is a swindler also grates.

All of this conflict plays out in Antonia’s relationship with Jim and the Burdens. Jim teaches her to speak English; she comes and works in the Burdens’ kitchen and learns about cookery; her strength of character (and of body) play a big role in the Shimerdas’ ability to remain on the prairie. But she is always her own person, she is always full of her own opinions, and she is always determined to make her own decisions. No matter how much the Shimerdas may depend on the Burdens, they are, ultimately, different.

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My Antonia

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