Bread Givers

Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska is a book that explores the life of a Jewish family, the Smolinskys, and focuses on the difficulties of women in this specific group in this time period. The book was an interesting read to say the least, especially when discussing the gender issues that exist both in the old and new world. The focus of the story is Sara Smolinsky the youngest of four daughters as she navigates the United States and faces financial difficulties.

An aspect that appears throughout the story is the notion that the ‘Bread Givers’ are often characterized to be men but nearly none of the men provide for their wives or families properly and often depend on the family to provide financial support. Reb Smolinsky is the father of Sara and her sisters, and he best exemplifies this recurring idea as he often relies on his daughters to provide him financial support while he still keeps the title as head of the household. This pressure affects the daughters, while they go on fine working to aid their family things become complicated with how Reb treats his daughters and stops them from seeing men who would have made them happy. This is likely a common experience for many young Jewish women as many of them had to fulfill the roles of providing for the household while still being forced into the gender roles of the old world. I enjoyed reading about the sisters and felt bad seeing the situation they ended up in.

Throughout the story, Sara seems to be the one that understands the situation of her sisters and presents her frustrations when they are hurt by their father or the other men in their lives. She also seems to be more in line with the concept of ‘the American Dream’ and how her hard work helped improve her economic situation, but the story gives the added dimension of Sara balancing the ideals she initially grew up with and the ideals she finds in America. Throughout her journey, Sara finds the difficult balance of wanting to be independent and how being independent also means that there will be many times where she will have to endure loneliness and even judgments from other people. This also seems like an experience that many immigrants had to face at the time, especially those who traveled to the US alone, as connecting with others of different communities can be difficult.

2 thoughts on “Bread Givers

  1. Really liked how you mentioned the fact that Sara understood each and every one of her sisters situations. She really looked out for them and didn’t care to make a scene if it had to do something to do with her sister. It displays the love she had for them.

  2. I like how you labeled Sara as the embodiment of the “American Dream.” She was exposed to the fundamental aspects of this narrative through figures such as Berel Bernstein and from her first experience turning a 25 cent profit. This also ties in with a broader theme of tension in the cultural identity of some American immigrants. Here we see that Sara’s orthodox Jewish upbringing pulled her to seek a domestic life early in her life, while her American accultured identity pulled her to use her youth to follow her own goals and provide for herself. This creates a unique identity present in other Jewish Americans as well who practiced Reformed Judaism.

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