Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers attacks several social norms of both her
traditional Polish homeland and the American life her protagonist has come
to know. Clearly autobiographical, Bread Givers boldly questions why certain
social and religious traditions continue throughout the centuries without
the slightest consideration for an individual’s interests or desires. Sara’s
traditional Jewish upbringing exposed her to a life dominated by patriarchal
control; when she arrived in New York to seek out the American Dream, she
found that once again her gender would stand in the way of such desires. In
spite of these cultural barriers, her mother understood Sara’s burning quest
to break free from traditional molds: “…When she begins to want a thing,
there is no rest, no let-up till she gets it” (Yezierska PG).
What is the American Dream, and who are the people most likely to pursue its
often-elusive fulfillment? Indeed, the American Dream has come to represent
the attainment of myriad goals that are specific to each individual; while
one person might consider a purchased home with a white picket fence her
version of the American Dream, another might regard it as the financial
ability to operate his own business. Clearly, there is no cut and dried
definition of the American Dream as long as any two people hold a different
meaning. What it does universally represent, however, is the opportunity for
people like Sara to seek out their individual and collective desires under a
political umbrella of democracy. “More and more I began to think inside
myself, I don’t want to sell [fish] for the rest of my days. I want to learn
something. I want to do something. I want some day to make myself for a
person and come among people” (Yezierska PG).
Driven to the United States by way of their oppressive homeland, Sara’s
family may have believed that this nation’s streets are paved with gold
where opportunities abound for lifelong prosperity, however, none of them
took the initiative to find out for themselves. Rather, they were content to
scrape out a meager living just to have adequate food on the table and a
roof over their heads. Sara would have none of this, realizing early on that
if she wanted to make something of herself she would have to work many times
harder than her male counterpart – a sacrifice s…
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…to comment upon them. The
author’s courageous attempts to conquer the timeworn gender bias within
American society are highly commendable. She dares to dispute the idea of
patriarchy through sincerity and a passion burning from within as a means by
which to help her female counterparts recognize the unbalanced
responsibilities of womanhood. Yezierska’s words speak clearly and with a
boldness that surpasses expression. Her recognition that women possess so
much more within their souls than merely remaining the oppressed female
counterpart of an egotistical male is startling.
Carrying forth the burden that has plagued women for centuries, Yezierska’s
Bread Givers attempts to alter the historical concept of patriarchy within
the boundaries of Western epistemology. In the author’s opinion, the age-old
gender molds are ripe for revamping and bringing into the present frame of
consciousness. No longer are women to be made to suffer through an
oppressive existence simply because it is mandated by religious; rather,
Yezierska paints a new picture of a strong, intelligent woman who will not
be coerced by the irrational expectations of an oppressive, patriarchal
Immigrant Reality Exposed in Bread Givers
Immigrant Reality Exposed in Bread Givers
For thousands of years people have left their home country in search of a land of milk and honey. Immigrants today still equate the country they are immigrating to with the Promised Land or the land of milk and honey. While many times this Promised Land dream comes true, other times the reality is much different than the dream. Immigration is not always a perfect journey. There are many reasons why families immigrate and there are perception differences about immigration and the New World that create difficulties and often separate generations in the immigrating family. Anzia Yezierska creates an immigration story based on a Jewish family that is less than ideal. Yezierska’s text is a powerful example of the turmoil that is created in the family as a result of the conflict between the Old World and the New World.
The Smolinsky family in Bread Givers immigrates to the United States due to political strife. They actually leave Russia as an indirect result of the father’s refusal to serve in the army. His refusal is based on his religious beliefs. The mother, Shenah Smolinsky, explained the reason to Sara, the narrator, by saying, “The tsar of Russia [ …] wanted to tear your father away from his learning and make him a common soldier” (33). The family buys the father out of the army. Then due to the sudden death of Mrs. Smolinsky’s father, Mr. Smolinsky takes over his father-in-law’s business. Mr.Smolinsky’s business knowledge is hindered by his dedication to his religion and the business is forced to close. Thus, Mr. Smolinsky took to heart the American Dream, “And when everything was gone from us, then our only hope was to come to America, where Father thought things cost n…
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Yezierska, Anzia. Bread Givers. New York: Persea Books, 1999.
—. “Soap and Water.” Imagining America Stories from the Promised Land. Ed. Wesley Brown and Amy Ling. 8th ed. New York: Peresea Books, 1991. 105-110.