Anzia Yezierska’s Novel, Bread Givers

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Anzia Yezierska’s 1925 novel Bread Givers ends with Sara Smolinsky’s realization that her father’s tyrannical behavior is the product of generations of tradition from which he is unable to escape. Despite her desire to embrace the New World she has just won her place in, she attempts to reconcile with her father and her Jewish heritage. The novel is about the tension inherent in trying to fit Old and New worlds together: Reb tries to make his Old World fit into the new, while Sara tries to make her New World fit into the Old. Sara does not want to end up bitter and miserable like her sisters, but she does not want to throw her family away all together. Her struggle is one of trying to convince her patriarchal family to accept her as an independent woman, while assimilating into America without not losing too much of her past. On the surface, Reb does represent the Old World, and Sara the New, but despite their being on opposite ends of the spectrum, they are remarkably similar characters: both believe in their own versions of the American Dream. Reb insists on leaving behind most of the family’s possessions because America is a “golden country, where milk and honey flow free in the streets” (9). The only possessions that are necessary are his books, “the light of the world” (9). Reb is the product of thousands of years of patriarchal tradition; he has been brought up to believe that “God didn’t listen to women…Women could get into Heaven because they were wives and daughters of men. Women had no brains for the study of God’s Torah, but they could be the servants of men” (9). Reb’s behavior must be tyrannical because the eternal souls of his family rests on his shoulders, his wife and daughters are not capable of get... ... middle of paper ... ... while she still has time (257). She fails at first, thinking her father is “bereft of his senses” in his second marriage (258). She believes this despite the Torah saying, “a man must have a wife to keep him pure, otherwise his eyes are tempted by evil” (259). Gradually, Sara begins to understand her father: the only thing he has in life is his fanatical adherence to traditions; “In a world where all is changed, he alone remained unchanged” (296). Reb has a deep and true fear of God, to expect him to change beliefs that he believes have been handed down by God, beliefs that have persisted for thousands of years, is illogical. It is impossible to reconcile fully the New World with the Old, and it is the responsibility of the New to be the more flexible, unfair as it may be. Works Cited Yezierska, Anzia. Bread Givers: a Novel. New York: Persea, 2003. Print.
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