Women have an important role in social and economic development. In particular, Anzia Yezierska,novel, Bread Givers delves deep to give an important insight of women in the family, and community. Importantly, this novel shows the social, cultural, and economic struggles and prejudice that women face in their attempt to escape poverty. In brief, the Bread Givers is a novel based on Russian-Jews immigrants family living in the US in the early 20th century after world war one. Notably, the family is extremely poor, and its cultures and values differ from those of Americans. Consequently, the family struggles on how to adapt to this new world. Noteworthy, among the family members is Sara, the family’s youngest daughter. Basically, she is offended by what she views as retrogressive family values that make them poor. In a quest to overcome this situation, she decides to escape from her family and particularly from her patronizing father.
Basically, Sara’s father Reb Smolinsky has strong religious and patriarchal beliefs that are shaped and influenced by his religious background. In brief, he has various unfounded prejudices against women, such as women are ignorant and cannot understand the Torah (Yezierska 9-10). Additionally, he believes that God does not listen to women. Moreover, he believes that women should be servants to the men who study the Torah. Worse still, he believes that women have little chances of succeeding as individuals, and their place in the society is limited to been a wife and a mother (Yezierska 9-10). Notably, Reb’s daughters unquestionably accept his beliefs except for Sara who is influenced by the American ideals of possibility. Of importance, the novel portrays Sara negotiating gender and cultural expectations, as well as, confronting her identity crisis. Essentially, her true growth occurs when she realizes, that despite achieving her American Dream, she must accommodate her Jewish cultural roots and reconcile both identities. In a nutshell, she cannot escape her father’s grasp as it is part of her.
From an early age, Sara detests the squalor and poverty that her family faces. Notably, at a tender age of ten, she already hates collecting firewood and coal in the neighborhood. Basically, this makes her feel like a beggar. In essence, she desires to be independent and free from aid. Further, her quest for independence is illustrated when she refuses free herring from her neighbor Muhmenkeh. She rebuffs his aid, and she remarks that she is not a beggar. Instead, she uses her only savings to buy her own herring (Yezierska 21). Generally, this feeling of independence validates Sara’s quest for independence and freedom from poverty. Later, Sara gets a job in a paper-box factory where she emerges as the fastest worker. Consequently, he earns higher wages than the other older women. Nonetheless, this wage is not enough to make her escape the ghetto. Generally, it is then that she learns of the power of education in eliminating poverty, and she decides to pursue it.
Indeed, her persistence to study does not flatter her father. Nevertheless, she pushes on despite his opposition. In her choice for independence, she refuses Max Goldstein for a suitor. Essentially, her desire for education and class mobility is not compatible with his. Moreover, Max has patriarchal beliefs and behavior similar to her father. As a result, she finds him strongly inclined to Old World beliefs that a woman is just another piece of property (Yezierska 199). As a protagonist of American ideals, she believes she is smart enough to look after herself without been patronized by a man.
Notably, having completed her education, she is able to find work as a teacher and afford a luxurious spacious apartment. Further, she also affords beautiful clothes that are worn by her female American colleagues. Importantly, her educational accomplishments also make her stand out and get acknowledgments from her peers. Noteworthy, education works as a great equalizer (Rhodes 304). Nonetheless, despite her success, it dawns on her that this is not the kind of life she desires. In essence, she detests the American individualism culture and she longs for the company of her family. Accordingly, she finds Americans aloof and distant. Basically, this illustrates her desire to be reunited with her Old World.
Evidently, Sara has acquired many cultures of the New World. For example, she no longer speaks Yiddish, instead, she uses Standard English (Yezierska 117). Essentially, in the development of the American identity, it is important to assimilate American language. Moreover, during her mother’s burial, she refuses to have her dress cut as is part of her Jewish culture (Yezierska 255). Notably, these examples, as well as, her refusal to accept her father’s domineering directives on whom she should marry, shows her break away from the Old World. Nonetheless, I particularly find that she has only partially broken from some values of the Old World and also accepted only some of the New World cultures and identity. Additionally, her decisions on what to accept and reject may be attributed to the independence she got through education.
Notably, despite her initial efforts to flee her poor neighborhood, she returns to teach English to Jewish children. Importantly, this shows her acknowledgment of her ties with her culture. Additionally, her marriage to a fellow Jew reaffirms her connection to her culture and the Old World values (Yezierska 277). In essence, this shows a connection as an Americanized working woman, as well as, having Old World values of family.
Importantly, her reunification with her father is what epitomizes her acceptance of the Old World (Wilentz 38). Basically, this demonstrates her irrevocable duty and love for her family and community “…It was within my power to keep the lighted the flickering candle of his life for him” (Yezierska 272). In addition, by her father teaching her husband Hugo, Hebrew language which is an essential part of the Old World, it demonstrates her family’s desire to learn the Old World values (Yezierska 272). Accordingly, Sara does not break away from the Old World or from her father’s grasp; instead, she merges her independent values of the New and Old World.
Rhodes, Chip. “Education as Liberation: The Case of Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers.” Science and Society 57.3 (1993): 294-312. Print.
Wilentz, Gay. “Cultural Mediation and The Immigrant’s Daughter: Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers”. MELUS 17.3 (1992):33-41. Print.
Yezierska, Anzia. Bread Givers. New York: Persea, 1975.