Bread Givers was a historically insightful book with an amazing story in which explored Sara’s personal experience with Jewish Immigration into America. Once arrived in America, without assimilation, it became hard to succeed. Mens’ education and religious studies no longer floated undeniable support from the community out of venerability, but rather an individualistic development did. Even they, Sara challenged and broke free of the old Jewish cultural norms which her father clung onto, separating her from her family and their tradition, and embracing Americanness in her own life.
The role of family was a common theme Sara persisted to challenge and eventually walk away from. Sara rejected arranged marriage to pursue happiness; worked for herself rather than contributing her earnings to support her religious father and the family; and not just Sara, but all the girls seemed to try to redeem themselves and build forgiveness with their father as he was sick towards the end of the book. It was the other sisters’ marriages, and Sara’s short-lived marriage herself, forecasted with hope and dreams for Americanness which sunk into an unhappy state, supporting Sara’s take that individualism prevailed instead.
Another huge element in the book was the failure and distance of relationships beyond the family. As I’ve mentioned, Reb, the father could not fathom an untraditional, individual life with his children, and preferred that discomfort to break bonds with Sara and affect his bonds with the other girls stemming from criticisms on their approach in marriage. Beyond the family though, we see multiple examples of the Jews being taken advantage of by Americans as they’re integrating and searching for opportunity. I believe the most prominent example is Mrs. Smolinsky and Reb Smolinsky’s determination to start a grocery store, but Reb buys into a schemed business and suffers after his failure, blaming everyone elses’s possible contribution in his lack of judgement. Secondly, Masah loves a man which would prioritize his career over his relationship. As a final example, Sara lost pennies to a random women she trusts, leading to a scolding from her father.
After Mrs. Smolinsky passes, Reb Smolinsky remarries and shfits an already troubled family dynamic with his daughters. Despite Sara’s dedication to educate herself, become financially independent, and develop beyond materialism in America, even she returns back to support her father in mourning, but his daughters turn their back to the estranged woman and reject their traditional “duty” to cover the house bills she is not included in. Without the support of the family, the new woman, disrespected by the children, demeans her relationship as money is a greater priority than the relationship; ironic because Reb has constantly been cycling in phases of great poverty due to his rejection of American life and dependence on tradition, Jewish house financial responsibilities from the women.