Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska
Anzia Yezierska was born in 1880 in a region near Warsaw in Eastern Europe. In 1890, she and her parents immigrated into America and settled in Manhattan. He father was a scholar of religious books and it is reported that they frequently clashed over his traditional ways that in Anzia’s view were a hindrance to integration into the American society. In view of these conflicts, she later moved out in search of independence and education. Her marriage life was albeit unusual as she married two friends, divorcing one for the other a day after the marriage. The reasons she gave were that she felt that she was not up to the physical demands of marriage. In 1912, she gave birth to a daughter. In 1916, she moved to San Francisco and later left the custody of her daughter with her husband, as she could not cope with the demands of a child. Like many of her books, “Bread givers” is themed on the hardships many of the immigrant Jewish faced on arrival in America at the turn of the century. It highlights; the chase of the elusive American dream, the gnawing hunger to achieve it, persistent anger at the loneliness and a frustrating need to belong to a new society. All this coupled with inter-cultural issues and gender prejudice.
The “Bread givers” is the story of Sara Smolinsky. She is a young girl of strong will and character. She resides in Lower East Side tenement of New York City in an immigrant Jewish community. Sara in an effort to relieve financial problems in her family engages in small businesses like selling coal. Her experiences growing up in a patriarchal society make up the rest of the story. A patriarchal society is defined as one where the male is the head of the household and holds authority over the women and children. The patriarchy that Sara is exposed to has its roots in both religion and culture. It has elements of Jewish patriarchy where not only do the women have no say in any of issues from money to maters of their own sexuality. The women are seen primarily as a source of wealth through payment of dowry. In addition, as illustrated in the quote “Only if they cooked for men, and washed for men, and didn’t nag and curse the men out of their homes. Only if they let the men study the Torah in peace, then, maybe, they could push themselves into heaven with the men, to wait on them there” (Yezierska, 1975). The role of women amounted to slavery .This in addition to motherhood was seen as the true worth of a woman.
The face of this inhuman ideology has particular meaning to Sara’s plight. The story is set in the 1900’s, a time in history when the women’s liberation movement is still at its infancy. The story tells of the suffering of women in a patriarchal society as depicted in the wrong choices Sara’s sister’s make in the men they marry. This is solely because Sara’s father rejects all her sisters’ suitors choosing instead to marry them off to other men for purposes of his own financial benefit. The men are chosen for their apparent financial stability. They in actual sense turn out to be a source of suffering rather than financial security. One is a gambler. The other, a middleman pretending to be a diamond dealer, spends all his money irresponsibly by buying flashy clothes he can ill afford while the other is married just because Sara’s sister feels sorry for his children. The actions of Sara’s father do not only deny her sister’s love but also condemn them to a life of perpetual poverty and suffering. In the story, Sara’s father operates his shop and he blatantly refuses to listen to any financial advice from Sara or Sara’s mother. The business goes under throwing the family and particularly the women suffer.
In colonial America, the treatment of women varied with the part of the country. In general, patriarchy prevented women from having a legal identity .This is because women could not sue or be sued. The reason was that they were not allowed to own property and were instead considered property that belonged to their Husbands (Collins 2004). They also did not have a political identity as the right to vote was out of reach. On comparisons of regions, the south the woman’s role was in the house doing housework .While in the West, the women were used to colonize other women in particular the Indian natives. They were usually sent out to teach other women household chore i.e. ‘maternalize’ them (Evans & Sexton 2002). The world in “bread giver’s” is akin to both of these worlds as the protagonists are usually the males while in some instances women play an active role in patriarchal societies in undermining other women. The roles of women are also similarly defined.
Collins, G. America‘s Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines. New York, NY: Perennial, 2004
Evans, J. A., & Sexton, R. G. A Southern woman of letters: the correspondence of Augusta Jane Evans Wilson. University Of South Carolina Press, 2002
Yezierska, A. Bread givers: a novel: a struggle between a father of the Old World and a daughter of the New. New York, NY: Persea Books, 1975