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Early in the book we first learn about the oldest Smolinsky sister Bessie, who is also known as the, "burden bearer" of the family. The Smolinsky's rely on Bessie to contribute her wages to the family's well being, and is seems that if she fails to make good enough money, the family will undoubtedly fall into pieces. "And the whole family were hanging on Bessie's neck for her wages. Unless she got work soon, we'd be thrown in the street to shame and to laughter for the whole world." (Pg 1) Perhaps it is Bessie who has suffered the most from her family duty. It seems that Bessie has not even had time to develop a personality due to the weight her family has put on her shoulders throughout her years as a young child and through her adolescence. She needs to work in order to feed her family and she unlike Sara, has no freedom and no chance of escaping her family duties without the separation of her family due to poverty. This truly holds Bessie back from what she wants. Her duty to her father keeps her from marrying Berel and going off to live with him. However she wants, like Sara, to run away and be independent but she feels that without her family she will be left alone in the cold world with no where to go. This frightens Bessie and she feels that she would rather stay with what she has at home, than risk getting something she truly wants by running away from her family.
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Another sister of Sara's named Masha, who is known as the family "empty-head" is really the only one who is living how she likes to. She dresses very nicely, carries herself with self-confidence. She enjoys going to the park and listening to free music when she can, and also buys paper flowers because they are pretty. She values beauty very much and it is what gives her a stringer sense of independence in the book than any other characters at this point. She falls for a piano player named Jacob Novak whose music happens to be one of the most beautiful sounds Masha has ever heard. After Masha hasn't seen Jacob in a while she worries, she paces in anxiety and feels as if he led her on and is never to be seen again. But he comes back one day, "Masha! His hands reached out to her, pleadingly. I have been a coward--bullied by my father. I listened to him because of the concertbut no more. You're everything to me." (Pg 62) We now see this trend in families outside of the Smolinsky household. And in the following of Jacobs father, Marsha's feels the need to do the same, "I give you the last warning, never see that man again. If you do, I'll turn you out of the house. You must choose between that scoundrel and your father." (Pg 64) she becomes very weak and helpless when her father snaps at her. Masha has to give into her father and never speaks with Jacob again. She let the man she loved and the chance to fix up her life get away because of her father's strong opinion on Jacobs work. She has become trapped for life; she must now wait for her husband to be picked by her father, and her food to be put in front of her by her sister. She remains beautiful on the outside for the remainder of the story however she looses her substance and spark for life. No longer is she who she once was, thanks to the responsibility she feels that she owes to her father.
Sara Smolinsky is different than her sisters. As the youngest child in the family she strangely is the most independent and seeks a life apart from her fathers jurisdiction. At the end of book one the fight that pushes Sara out of the house is the best thing that could happen to her. It releases the pressure of an eventual escape, like Bessie had and she had herself prior to the actual event; allowing Sara to venture into a world of her own and get what she truly desires from life. An education perhaps, a place of her own, putting food on her own table and other things that signify independence. However, strangely enough the man she so desires to get away from is whom she most resembles in her own life. Her father and her seem to be mirror images, however cannot stand each other. Both with a yearning desire for completing tasks on their own, free from the influence of others. And they both are in this state of mind for the same goal, to live that American dream of great opportunity and to be able to seize what is in front of their anxious hands. We see this present in the text in early chapters, when Sara is out on the streets selling goods at a very young age trying to do what she can for her well-being. And later in the book Reb, who has saved his money purchases a store, however is harshly led to the reality that the sore he bought was full of fake goods.
We then think we see Sara finally escaping her counterpart halfway through this story. But its not what it seems to be. Living by herself in an apartment she pays for, eating what she provides to herself (although its minimal) and most importantly doing as she pleases. As her mother stops by to visit after a very long hiatus from the family, Sara acts to proud to care about her family. She exhibits the same attitude her father does with her schoolwork that he does with his holy readings. As time goes by still no visits to the family are made and we begin to see more and more of this independent lifestyle immerging in Sara. It really becomes evident when she graduates From College and moves onto bigger and better things, such as her job as a professor. And finally we think that she was strong enough to escape her family and live her own self-sustaining life, until she gets pulled back to the ways of her father, and rejoins that family that one held her back so much. As she hears word of her mother taken ill she regains thoughts of old times and her father, " Maybe after all my puffing myself up that I was smarter, more self sufficient than the rest of the worldwasn't father right? He always preached a woman alone couldn't enter heaven." (Pg. 270) A sense of loneliness has come over Sara and she has thoughts of returning home to her father. Eventually she finds a man to ease the pain named Hugo Seelig, who was the principal at the school Sara taught at. But the one thing she doesn't know is that the wound will keep bleeding due to her next decision. Even though her sisters and her couldn't figure out why he had re-married so quickly after his mother died, and were deeply hurt by this, Sara still felt an obligation to her home. Instead of leaving her father to suffer alone, her and Hugo decide to take her father in with them.
From begging to end many readers though that Sara would be that one to separate herself from the burdens she held at home. It clearly seemed to a Hollywood novel as the main character got exactly what she wanted from a tough decision she had to make in order to prosper as a child. But then unfortunately a bittersweet ending flipped the script, and Sara once more fell into the restriction her family had on her and never truly prospers in life. As for her sisters they too would remain unhappy for a lifetime each of them dealing with a husband chose not by them, but their father who seemed to be quite the matchmaker. Unfortunately this couldn't end with the fulfillment of the American dream, but only with the disappointment of a missed opportunity.