Bread Givers: Caleigh Deane

Bread Givers Writing Assignment

The novel Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska features the main character, Sara Smolinsky, her sisters Bessie, Fania, and Mashah, and her mother and father, Reb Smolinsky. Yezierska introduces the Smolinsky family as Jewish immigrants of Polish descent. The novel opens with already a struggle with poverty as none of the Smolinsky daughters are able to find work to provide for their family. Reb Smolinsky refuses to work, as he is a religious man of the Torah and has devoted his entire life to prayer and God, and relies on his daughters as a source of income. At the same time, he is desperate to marry them off to rich men that can provide for him as well. Sara is the youngest of the daughters, with Bessie being the oldest. Bessie had already been the burden-bearer of the family, tirelessly working without complaint to appease her father. Reb constantly insults all four of his daughters, and is resentful that he did not have a son instead. He sees all women as possessions who are unworthy of existence without a decent man. Ironically, Reb drives away men that Bessie, Fania, and Mashah fall for, including Berel Berenstein, Morris Lipkin, and Jacob Novak respectively. He simultaneously complains that the women are getting older, uglier, and becoming old maidens who are in desperate need of a husband to become worthy. His obsession and abuse of religion drive away all of his daughters and wife because of his “holier than thou attitude”. The only point in the entirety of the book that Reb earns respect is when he slaps the landlady who stepped on his Torah Book at the very beginning of the novel. Even this action in itself is despicable, and he is almost sent to jail because of it. Reb eventually becomes known as a matchmaker in their neighborhood, as he forces each daughter besides Sara to marry a man of his choosing. Bessie marries Zalmon the fish peddler, Fania Abe Schmukler the rich gambler, and Mashah Moe Mirksy the con artist. Reb of course blames each other their failed marriages on the young women, even though none of them wanted to be with those men in the first place. All three women stay in their miserable marriages, still under the control of their domineering father.

Bessie is run ragged taking care of five stepchildren and running a fish cart, Fania is feigned with loneliness as her husband is constantly away gambling, and Mashah barely survives in the depths of poverty with three children of her own. After they leave the Smolinsky family home, Sara and her parents begin looking for a new avenue to make money. Using Zalmon’s money, Reb buys a supposedly lucrative grocery store for 400$ who is fleeing to Russia on short notice. Even after his wife’s warnings to be careful with their money, he ignorantly gives away 400 dollars for an almost empty store that sells products for way below the market value. His wife begs grocers to trust her in repayment as she begins to restock the shelves. Being the belligerent person he is, Reb continues to drive away customers with his superior attitude. One day, Sara decides to leave home at age 17 to start a life for herself. Her mother gives her the remainder of the rent money, and Sara ventures to New York to fend for herself. She eventually finds refuge in a small, dark room where she lives for years to come. She begins attending school to become a teacher while simultaneously working to survive. At certain points, she almost perishes from hunger due to poverty. She does not feel as though she fits in with the other working girls of night school students and attempts to change her appearance; this does not work, and only enhances the bullying. One day, she receives a visit from a man sent by Fania from California by the name Max Goldstein. He momentarily woes Sara who considers marrying him, but then declines after realizing he is truly only money hungry and boastful. Her father comes to visit her and is extremely angry that she turned down his proposal for a better life in California, even though she was not in love with him. He lectures her that she thinks she is better than everyone else and too good for Max; he doesn’t understand her perspective in the slightest. In the next section of the novel, Sara goes to college, during which she experiences many hardships, including working while studying, failing geometry, and falling over hurdles in gym class. When she finally graduates and is qualified to teach, she receives a one thousand dollar scholarship for her essay about how college has benefited her. With this money she begins an almost new life as a teacher with nice clothes who lives in a small but neat home. Rather suddenly, Sara’s mother passes away, and her father is left wifeless. He complains about not receiving home cooked meals and cleaning services in her absence, and decides to marry the widower Mrs. Feinstein who is only in the relationship for money. As time passes, Mrs. Feinstein begins to complain that Reb will not work, and she is left in a rut of poverty. She asks for the children to contribute money to their wellbeing, but they do not want to support her. Reb becomes sick for a short time and Sara watches over him, but then makes a full recovery. Sara finally finds a suitable man, the principle at the school she works, and begins to court him; she finally feels less alone. 

One thought on “Bread Givers: Caleigh Deane

  1. Your emphasis on the analysis of Reb Somlinsky, in my opinion shows the difference of having a different cultures influence when coming to America. The girls began to realize this and grew to resent their father which led Sara to leaver her family all together and start a life of her own. When I picture a family immigrating to America I often see them working as a family unit to change their socioeconomic status but in this narrative Sara going on her own shows the story of a single woman changing her life on her own. I think that this story provides a narrative of the hardships faced personally and in society for immigrants of this descent.

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