Emma Monaghan Week 4

This week while reading Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska we gained a sense of what life was like for a family of Jewish immigrants in America during what would have been the third wave of immigration mentioned in class. The book begins by introducing the daughters of the Smolinsky family who are all struggling to find work. In the Shtetl family the wife and daughters are responsible for taking care of the house and the finances while the sons and husbands andre to study the Torah and make a life of studying and practcing their religion, consequently not providing much if any material wealth to the family. The daughter that the story follows, Sara is in the house preparing dinner when the other sisters arrive home, Bessie who seems distraught over not finding work. Mashah comes next and seems a bit upset about still not finding work but is more concerned with her looks than work which we find out has been a common point of frustration with Mashah and her family, and finally Fania who is also disheartended by not finding work. What shocked me and really solidified the idea of the Shtetl family dynamic we discussed in class was the fact that the Smolinsky mother was shocked and stressed by the fact that her daughters had still not found work and the father told them to not worry to which the mother responded condeming him for not even being aware that the family had not been able to make rent. 

The book continues on to follow the life of the Smolinsky family and the trials faced as immigrants to the United States. In order to escape poverty the older daughters leave home and marry men that they hoped to find better lives with but proves fairly unsuccessful. Sara is determined to break the cycle of poverty she has faced as an immigrant in America, first determined to leave her father and his violent ways Sara leaves and manages to survive and make ends meet. Estranged from her family and not having the happiest of lives Sara attempts to find a relationship with a man but leaves him when she realizes he did not have good intentions. Following this Sara is determined to find wealth by herself and goes to school to become a teacher and begins to finally climb the social and econimc structure in America. This matter quickly turns around to sadness when Sara learns that her mother is dying and no matter what her or her sisters can provide she will not survive. The book continues on with other trials faced by Sara and her family including her fathers failed second marriage. 

The portion I found most interesting of this book was Saras family and their household structure. Sara’s father said at one point that he would be an “American businessman” to which her mother replied that the businessman would not just come out of him when they came to America he would be the same as he was in Russia. Suggesting that he find work and income in religion since he found that his place and purpose were in religion but he quickly dismissed this saying that the Torah and religion were too sacred to make money from. I now understand why in class Dr. Moon said the way she felt about him as she did, his oblivion to his surroundings, and lack of assistance really shocked and angered me. This background really made it possible to understand why Sara did what she did in order to escape this dynamic as it all would be worth it to not face that anymore.

2 thoughts on “Emma Monaghan Week 4

  1. I agree with your acknowledgement of Dr. Moon’s comment; Reb Smolinksy is truly a selfish and greedy man who believes he can make it by on the backs of others who are supposedly indebted to him because of twisted tradition. I kept thinking that his character would be redeemed, but time after time, he disappointed me with his heartless actions. Even when his wife died, he was only sad because there was nobody to cook or clean for him. Up to the last page of the book, Reb Smoliskny kept up his dramatic preachings about religion and the unworthiness fo his daughters and their suitors.

  2. Emma – I liked how you talked about the structure of the family in this book. This was one of the things that I was wondering about… whether or not the families that immigrated became a part of “American” culture or tried to stay within the bounds/structure of what they knew. Sara’s father kept her and her family working; he was the head of the household and made the rules and was the dominant figure in the choices that were made for their family. He turned away some of the men his daughters brought home, perhaps seeing this as them turning into Jewish-American women instead of staying and continuing life as it was before they arrived in the U.S.

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