A Patriarchal World

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A Patriarchal World John Bodnar says it well when he suggests that "the center of everyday life was to be found in the family-household. It was here that past values and present realities were reconciled, examined on an intelligible scale, evaluated and mediated." This assertion implies that the immigrant family-household is the vehicle of assimilation. I will take this assertion a step further and examine more specifically the powerful role of the patriarchal father within Anzia Yezierska's book Bread Givers and Barry Levinson's film Avalon. Yezierska's theme vividly depicts the constraint of a patriarchal world, while Levinson illustrates the process of assimilation and the immigrant, now American, family and its decline. In this paper, I will exemplify how the patriarchal father, Sam Kochinsky (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and Reb Smolinsky are the key determinant of the dynamics by which the family assimilates. In assimilation, you are said to conform to your surroundings. Assimilation is a process by which you reconcile the ideal with reality. Dealing with virtually three generations of an entire Jewish American immigrant experience, Levinson illustrates not necessarily the merging of two cultures, but possibly the tainting of authenticity, clouding (memories of) the familiar-the villain being the television. The happy community of extended family is, in the end, supplanted by the glowing idiot box that kills conversation and turns its suburban audience into zombies. In Yezierska's work, she epitomizes the struggle between the Old World and the New World. The patriarchal father, representing traditional Jewish ways, and Sara Smolinsky, the heroine, struggling against her father with the desire to reconcile with reality. In Bread Givers, Yezierska symbolically depicts Sara as the immigrant parting her ways as she embarks anew on the journey that was given to her when she arrived by which to transform her life-dealing with the daily transformation as she struggles to hold together the wants of society and her (families) authenticity in these days of deep troubles. The head of the family, Reb Smolinsky is an immovably Orthodox Jewish rabbi, who lives by the Holy Torah, and expects his family to do the same. His reign over the family reinforces Old World, traditional values and beliefs. Reb holds to the Torah belief that "if they [women] let... ... middle of paper ... ...ggested an adaptation in the hopes that Jules would simply have a better life than that of a wallpaper-hanger. In putting television in place a New World, Levinson portrays how a cheap, gaudy, poor substitute somehow seduced and enraptured the family. Perhaps Levinson is saying that although it may be the easier to converge, assimilation is too costly. On the other hand, you have Reb whose stubborn beliefs and male superiority coupled with a passive wife allow him to claim control over his daughter's lives. Resentment is quite damaging and separates families as well. Either way you look at it the outlook is favorable for neither assimilation nor isolation. And so I conclude in saying that the patriarchal father has an especially important role and while he needs the strength found in Yezierska's character, Reb, (in order to hold the family together) he must also be willing to adapt to a changing reality. Immigration is neither a call for assimilation nor isolation. Individuality is important, but why resist change when you can better yourself in the process. Bibliography: Levinson, Barry. Avalon. 1990. Yesierska, Anzia. Bread Givers. Persea Books: New York, 1999.
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