Study Guide

Mrs. Shimerda in My Ántonia

By Willa Cather

Mrs. Shimerda

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In the Shimerda family, Ántonia is often paired with her father while Mrs. Shimerda is paired with her son Ambrosch. Ántonia and her father are more sensitive and kind, while Mrs. Shimerda and Ambrosch seem to be more self-centered and mean. Ántonia tells Jim that it was her mother who made them move to America, and that she did so for the sake of Ambrosch's future, even though it meant making her husband unhappy. This anecdote emphasizes the family alliances (Mrs. Shimerda/Ambrosch and Mr. Shimerda/Ántonia).

Mrs. Shimerda is generally a proud woman, even when she's asking for or getting charity from the Burdens. It bothers her to be in a state of poverty, since she takes so much pride in having a clean and well-kept house. Unfortunately, her attitude often comes off as ungrateful or vain to characters like Jim. When she comes to his house, for example, she tells Jim's grandmother that she would do a better job of keeping house if she had the same resources. She also takes a pot without asking, saying that that she ought to have it because the Burdens have many while she does not.

While Jim often judges Mrs. Shimerda and her son for their attitudes, other characters remind him that the Shimerdas are in difficult circumstances. Jim's grandmother, for instance, tells him that poverty brings out certain traits in people that might not otherwise show. The language barrier is also a consideration: Mrs. Shimerda isn't able to express herself with the proper subtly of a native speaker. This might mean that she sometimes appears harsh when perhaps she doesn't mean to.