Bread Givers offers an insight into the life of Jews, particularly Jewish women during the early 1900s. This semi-fiction is a journey of the then Jewish settlers in virgin America. The plot is interwoven with a number of conflicts common in that era. Anzia Yezierska has beautifully penned a story about the life of a Jewish woman, her two sisters and her parents; how she carries the burden of being the bread earner of the family, and yet have all her decisions made by her father. The book shows us many facets of the lives of the Jewish settlers in the early 1900s.
Through its themes it showcases the many roles the Jewish people especially the women, had to live up to after their immigration into the United States. In this era, general law in the Jewish society was that the man had the final say in everything . which was evident from the fact that Reb Smolinsky was able to thrash every single one of his daughters romances. If we follow the life of Sara we will see that gender roles in this era were evidently changing, as Sara made her own decisions and lived her own life.
However, society did not accept this change and at the end of the day she was nothing more than an outcast. It’s ironic that at the end of the day happiness only came to her after she had found Hugo. Looming over the heads of the females in this era was the conflict between generations. We see that “family” keeps the girls from running away and doing what they want in life. According to old traditions, males dominate the decisions as per tradition.
But here we see the youngest of the three sisters, Sara rebelling against these traditions and going against the tide and doing what she believes in and not what the generations have taught her. An unavoidable situation arises and the weight of expectation pushes Sara into taking her father into her own home. Hugo, her fiance, sees only the community belief of what is expected of them and takes their father in without question. Despite how far she has come, the life her culture requires and expects is still waiting for her, ready to take advantage of the slightest slip.
As the story evolves, we see how each of the three sisters’ grows up and longs for a man in her life. However, their course in life shows a sharp contrast between their expectations and reality. After they are married, Eternal happiness and satisfaction eludes them while the actions of their male counterparts slap them in the face and bring them back to reality. We can see that each of the girls thinks marriage or in Sara’s case, achieving her goals would solve their problems, but it turns out it isn’t the magical solution they thought it would be.
Bessie and Fania get married, only to face the fact that life wasn’t all rosy and carefree as they thought it would be. When Sara gives her own room on rent, she visualizes about how amazing and enriching it will be, only to find herself greatly longing for someone to talk to. In essence all three have set ideas of love in their minds and later on realize just how different real life really is. The book showcases entire generations that moved to America. It was the golden time of opportunity and the part that the Jewish women played in society is of phenomenal interest.
Takaki, Ronald. , A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (New York: Little, Brown & Co. , 1993), 508 pages Gjerde, John. , ed. Major Problems in American Immigration and Ethnic History: Documents and Essays. (Cengage Learning, 1998) Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861, rep. 2001). Reimers, David. Unwelcome Strangers. (New York : Columbia University Press, c1998). Yezierska, Anzia. Breadgivers. (1925)
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