Mr. Shimerda’s visit to the Burdens on Christmas Day puts a slight ripple in the harmony that Jim feels. Jim’s sense of universality cannot override the practical gap in observance existing between different religions. While the Shimerdas are from Bohemia (a western region of the Czech Republic, a country with a substantial Catholic population) and of Catholic heritage, the Burdens are Protes-tant. Mr. Shimerda emphasizes this difference by kneeling in front of the Burdens’ Christmas tree, transforming it from a symbolic decoration into an explicitly religious icon. While the Burdens may not identify, or even agree, with this type of religious observance, Mr. Burden decides to tolerate it quietly. “The prayers of all good people are good,” he remarks as Mr. Shimerda vanishes into the Christmas night. It is a noble sentiment, but Cather is ambiguous about whether Mr. Burden speaks sincerely.
Jim himself reveals an uncharacteristic lack of sympathy in the argument he has with Ántonia shortly after New Year’s Day, which may be attributed to his immaturity as a ten-year-old boy. While he retells the story in an adult voice, his words and actions in the story are those of his ten-year-old self. His inability to appreciate the complexity of the Shimerdas’ situation in a new country is not a matter of insensitivity to their plight or scorn of foreigners, but rather a lack of adult perspective. While he tells Ántonia that “people who don’t like this country ought to stay at home,” it is clear from the attention and energy he pours into his relationship with Ántonia that her departure from Nebraska is the last thing he would want.
Ántonia and Jim’s argument, as an unexpected turn in an otherwise pleasant narrative, suggests greater tensions to come. Additionally, Cather employs a change in the weather to foreshadow trouble. An unusually mild beginning to the year gives way to a violent blizzard. At this point, Cather uses an elegant metaphor of snowbound animals to represent the struggling immigrant family. The high drifts leave the guinea hens “resentful of their captivity,” leading them to screech and attempt to poke their way out of the snow walls that have been built up around them. The Shimerdas, in their economic hardship, face a similar challenge in the unfamiliar land that they now inhabit.