In Anzia Yezierska's novel Bread Givers, we learn about a struggle between Sara Smolinsky and her father. Her father, an Orthodox rabbi, is stuck in the traditions of the old world and will not tolerate Sara's longing for independence. This novel takes place in New York's Lower East Side, where the population mainly consists of Jewish immigrants who have come to America in hopes of living a better life than they lived in the shtetls. In America, for the family's who still lived by the traditions of the old world, life for the women was no different that life in the shtetls.
Sara and her family had immigrated to America from a village in Poland. According to their Jewish traditions, the only role a woman had in her life was to take care of the family, and make life easier for their husbands. This idea becomes very clear right at the start of the novel. We learn that two of Sara's sisters, Bessie and Masha, are coming home after being out looking for work so they could earn wages for the family . The daughters of Reb Smolinsky were expected to be the wage earners. Women in Reb Smolinsky's household are expected to do all of the work required for keeping the family alive. Reb does nothing to earn money or make life better for his family. He is a religious scholar who has devoted his whole life to the study of the Torah, and his family's job was to make him comfortable. All of the burdens were placed on Reb's family; he carried none of them. Reb was a "dictator" in the household. When Sara's sister Bessie brought home a man for the family to meet, Reb kicked him out of the house. He said that this man was not good enough for his burden bearer. He appears to be very reluctant to ...
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...to see her. He had disowned his daughter for leaving the family and not supporting him. After the death of Sara's mother, Reb even wrote a letter to the principal of Sara's school implying that the school should send part of Sara's wages to him because she abandoned her father.
Sara never did get out of her obligation to serve and take care of her father. The novel ended with Sara offering to let her father come and live with her so she could take care of him. This novel really illustrates the struggles immigrants who came to this country had to deal with. Like Sara, many other women wanted their lives to have more meaning that they were accustomed to. Coming to America gave money of them the opportunity to achieve their independence, just as Sara did in Bread Givers.
Anzia Yezierska, Bread Givers (New York:
Persea Books, 1999)
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