Discuss Yezierska’s representations of gender roles and relationships in her novel Bread Givers. The story ‘Bread Givers’ observes the role and practices of the Jewish immigrant, particularly females in America coarsely after the world war on New York City specifically. The novel focuses on a family and the relationship between a father who is a Rabbi, Reb Smolinsky and his daughters and wife. However, the story does focalize on Reb’s and his youngest daughter Sara’s relationship.
Through events the storyline portrays the movements towards a young Jewish immigrant including her family. She does ‘come of age’ in a country that has completely different standards than those who are looked upon in the Smolinsky household and by a majority of the Jewish community in the area in the early 1900’s in New York City. I will be focusing on the daughters Bessie and Sara in order to state out the gender differences and roles they carry in the novel. As well as, the relationship and the way their father treats them relate to the fact that they are females in a new country.
In Sara’s eyes the hunger to adapt to the American standards is so crucial to her that she risks breaking the ties with her family and community. The family, are the Russian immigrants in America, whilst everybody apart from Sara stays true to their old views and traditions, Sara tries to ‘fit in’ with the culture of the west. Sara’s hardships for adjusting are highlighted across the novel. In many ways reaching to a point where she is independent from her family is the definition of adjusting to New York. However, at the same moment, Sara hopes there as a way in which she could still be connected with her family and still fit in at the same time. (Yezierska and Kessler Harris, 2005, pp. 205-208). Gay Wilentz wrote a novel by cultural mediation called ‘Cultural Mediation and the immigrant’s daughter, Anzia Yezierka’s Bread Givers’. Here, the author makes very strong opinions that people may feel similar concerning why and how the Jewish community look upon ‘mixing’ with negative emotions and especially why the average Jewish immigrant female has a rare experience because of her sex. (Wilentz, 1991, pp 33-34).
Wilentz stated that many Jewish writers had noted that … The price of Americanization was increasing. The loss of the lewish traditions and the rich, cultural life of the shtetl. Bread Givers shows the reader the consequence of Americanization when Sara voices ‘l had made my choice and now I had to pay the cost,, daring to follow the urge in me. No Father, no Lover, no family, no friend’. (Yezierska and Kessler Harris, 2005, pp. 208). When Reb finds out that Sara gas declined Max Goldstein’s marriage proposal, he confronts Sara. (Yezierska and Kessler Harris, 2005, pp. 05).
Furthermore, Wilentz struggles that ‘for the Jewish women immigrant, this conflict of culture rook an extra dimension not only was Sara forced to handle with the prejudices of the central culture but also with the patriarchal customs of the Ashkenazi Jewish community. ‘(Wilentz, 1991 pp. 34). Women who lived in America were achieving the right to vote by this period of time but that doesn’t suggest that it was a time where it was predictable that women work outside of the house. Certainly American businesses were conquered by men.
For Jewish families of a Rabbi of financial accountability fell on the women and children’. (Wilentz, Cultural Mediation and the immigrant’s daughter, Anzia Yezierka’s Bread Givers. 35). For the wife receiving the insufficient household wages while Reb studied the Torah. Adaptation was not just problematic, it was fundamentally impossible. Also there is the disagreement whether the ability to make money leads to success. When the women still remained subservient the notion of the ‘bread winning’ woman remaining obedient is predominantly obvious in character of Bessie.
Bessie is the oldest daughter who had come of age in the ‘old world’. She is unable to find a abode in the ‘new world which leads to her staying within the limits of her area. Overall, America to Bessie is a place that offers such things she doesn’t feel worthy of having. Most significantly, she does not dare to think about how it would be like to be self-sufficient or make her own decisions. For Bessie it is not likely to be defiant against her father (Yezierska and Kessler Harris, 2005, pp. 45-51). this is clear when she breaks up with her boyfriend.
Berel Bernstein who she is in love with. In order to please her father. Berel comments to Bessie “It’s you who are to blame, so long as he gets enough to eat he will… bluff away his day in his learning and reading” (Yezierska and Kessler Harris, 2005, pp. 50) Bessie answers him “I cannot marry a man who doesn’t respect my father”. (Yezierska and Kessler Harris, 2005, pp. 51). The household situation is complicated even more by the fact that Bessie is the one that earns the highest and most in the household. Yezierska and Kessler Harris, 2005, pp. 45).
The idea of getting Bessie married and leading to leaving the house is a big concern for Reb economically. However, it is not just that, it becomes transparent when Reb asks “has a father no rights in America” (Yezierska and Kessler Harris, 2005, pp. 45). This suggests that Reb is aware of the culture in which he is surrounded. Perhaps these words reflect on Reb to be a bit ‘different’, and is afraid that situations are changing from his control outside the home.
Which may be a reason for why he is quite sharp to his daughters. Similarly, the way that Sara reaches for the ‘new world’, Bessie deliberately turns her back like Reb who permanently ties himself to the ‘old world by denying his ‘obedient’ child the chance of a happy marriage and future. When comparing Reb’s reaction to Sara rejecting Max Goldstein in marriage to the way Reb treats Bessie’s situation is worrying. Particularly when Reb beliefs teach that when it comes to women’s importance being based on the limit of a marriage.
A women’s highest happiness is to be a man’s wife, the mother of a man’s children. You’re not a person at all” (Yezierska and Kessler Harris, 2005, pp. 205). At this time in Sara’s life she is working her way for college, living dirty, chilling and in a dull basement room because she is determined to adapt and is detached from the rest of society she lives with, partly because she is a female racial minority and society does not want her to blend in. Altogether, Sara’s drive for achievement in order to blend in giving her the capability to rise to her father Reb.
At the age of seventeen, when Sara lastly leaves the Smolinsky home for good, she stands up to her father through the question about ‘what for’, he has initially destroyed the future of the rest of her siblings and wasted four hundred dollars that the family did not have any money on a bad business agreement on a local grocery store. The silver lining through Sara’s hardships is that she does cope to reach her goals, she qualifies as a teacher and then marries a Jewish man. Yet, if she wants to fit in with American society and becoming independent, she has had to sacrifice losing her father.
Initially, blending in does come with a price to pay that is considered a high price to pay to ‘belong’. The problem of the Jewish female settlers whose battle amongst living her life as an American and recollecting the strength and nourishment she achieves as part of the Jewish community is further deteriorated by her wish for freedom as a woman (Yezierska and Kessler Harris, 2005, pp. 33-34). Sadly one thing stands out about Sara’s ‘not so perfect’ ending are that the reader is left feeling that she is guessing it out as she goes along.
She rejoices the triumph of graduating college with a journey of the train, eating a meal, buying a good business suit and renting an “airy room, the kind of room (she) had always wanted” (Yezierska and Kessler Harris, 2005, pp. 237-240). The uncertainty of her life, to make her happy is quite sad. What this novel has stated out to me is how tough and a struggle it must be to foreign immigrants, especially women. Having the desire to fit in and not stand out may be crucial especially to Sara in this novel.
The way a father can behave towards his daughter in a sexist view, still feeling the male dominance present through Sara’s actions through the beginning of the story. What also stands out to me is not just because of the success of Sara’s accomplishment to make a name for herself. The bildungs roman presented which shows Sara’s development from adolescence to womanhood. With the return of her orthodox father Reb to her life, a new job, a boyfriend. It makes me feel that finally, Sara has more control of her life.
Maybe what Anzia is trying to say to the reader, a passion to want something, is motivation enough to keep you going, even though it is expected to come to decisions where you have to sacrifice something. Perseverance is key. And one day, that will get you to a state where you will be content with what you went through in order to be happy. In Sara’s own words, “How grand it felt to lean back in my chair, a person among people, and order anything I wanted from the menu” (Yezierska and Kessler Harris, 2005, pp. ).