In many ways the opposite of her husband, Mrs. Shimerda is mean-spirited, small-minded, shrewish, and grasping. She is never satisfied, always expecting more. Jim mentions that she always looks accusingly at those who have more than she does. It was her greed and desire for better things that brought the family to America. She saw the New World as an opportunity for her sons to own land and her daughters to marry well. Little did she realize that life on the Nebraska prairie would be isolated, brutal, and full of suffering. One can only imagine what she must have said to Mr. Shimerda for providing as poorly as he did once they were in Nebraska.
Her actions and words in the presence of the Burdens make her character quite clear. She is a terrible housekeeper, poor cook, and disagreeable in everything. Grandmother mentions that she could have used some of her neighbor's hens to start a henhouse but could not even manage to do that to help the family. Mrs. Shimerda disagrees over the cow the Burdens loan them, is unhappy over Ántonia's English lessons, and is envious and complaining that Jim's grandparents don't "give their share."
On visiting the Burden house, Mrs. Shimerda further shows her lack of class by complaining, making her jealousy clear, and whining that her lot in life is much worse than the Burdens, who have lived on the land and farmed it for many years already. Hard work does not seem to be the road to success for Mrs. Shimerda. Jim mentions that she might share things, but she always expected "substantial presents in return." Her visits are often dramatic and filled with greed and expectations. It is plain to see that Mrs. Shimerda's character is quite a contrast to that of her husband.
Although Jim is disgusted with Mrs. Shimerda and her actions and words, Grandmother tries to be charitable, giving her a cooking pot, sending food and presents on many occasions, and offering words of solace. She even says that her actions can be excused because she is a stranger in the country and is trying to provide for her family. But Jim presents a truer picture in his assessment that "she was a conceited, boastful old thing and even misfortune could not humble her." One can only hope that in the afterlife her husband was spared her complaints.