My paper examines how in Yezierskas Bread Givers, Sarah comes to believe that the end result of the American dream is worth the struggle and worth the risk of giving up familiarity to be part of the American society. In this semi-autobiographical account, Yezierska explores the theme of assimilation into a foreign culture relying partly on her experiences as a polished immigrant in America. Her endeavor to leave the ghetto and live the American dream is reflected by her struggles. Sara overcomes class, educational, and familial challenges as well as many other odds to be assimilated into the American culture.
The Bread Givers is about the Smolinskys, a Jewish family of six that relocates to America and wallows in poverty and barbarian tradition in a ghetto environment in Manhattan. The familys poverty is evident at the beginning of the story where the narrator describes how they used their hands instead of cutlery when eating and were not privy to other basic items (Yezierska 28-29). The barbarian customs of the Jews are depicted by the policies of Reb Smolinsky, the head of the family. Reb spends most of his time in the study reading and expects his family to fend for all his needs. According to Jewish custom, the man gets the best of everything, the fat from the soup and the top from the milk (Yezierska 10). A Jewish womans service to men is one of the attributes of Jewish customs that baffled Bessies boyfriend, Berel, who criticizes Bessie for being held hostage by the traditions (Yezierska 50). Sara is determined to leave behind this poverty and Jewish spirituality to embrace the American culture that is more promising, democratic and tolerant when it comes to women.
The American culture emphasizes the education of all as a key to prosperity. Education is one of the main factors that motivate Sara to move out of the Smolinsky family. The Jewish Torah held that women had no intellectual capacity and that their role was to serve men (Yezierska 9-10). Saras intention was to defy this custom by proving herself in school and ending her financial troubles through education. She blames her father for ruining the lives of all the other children with his uncivilized traditions and wasting money on a poor business decision. Saras parting words to her father stated, I have to live my life.mother and the others lived for you (Yezierska 137). When persuaded to seek a partner by her sisters and parents, she insists on bettering herself first. Her response to marriage is to marry a man that is a person, I must first make myself for that person (Yezierska 172). Sara is willing to risk her future and the wrath of her family by training as a teacher.
The pursuit of happiness in the form of following ones passion is a dominant subject in Bread Givers. Jacob Novak, Mashahs boyfriend, leaves her to pursue his dream of being a musician. Mashah cannot understand the essence of sacrifice when it comes to pursuing a career due to her blind admiration of material things and her backward cultural beliefs (Yezierska 5-6). She was so focused on her looks that she did not know that intellect was an attractive feature in a woman. When Novaks father learns that he is in love with a ghetto girl, he quickly persuades his son to leave her alone most probably due to her social status and lack of education. Mashah and her sisters are brought up to have no desire or ambition, but to be grateful for what God has provided (Yezierska 11). The desire to chase the American dream propels Novak to leave Mashah, who was not of the same mindset.
Sara stands out from her sisters regarding her desire to seek greener pastures. Bessie, her elder sister, is trapped in a family that relies on her for sustenance. Her father tells one of Bessies suitors that taking her away is similar to tearing bread from his mouth (Yezierska 46). Despite her desire to leave, her loyalty to her father prevents her progress. Fania and Mashah, afraid to leave the security of their family and out of devotion to their father, are both married away and leave hopeless lives when they could have decided to leave their father to pursue their own happiness. Sara is the only one among the four of them who had the courage to challenge the authority of her father. At one point, she objects her fathers interference with Fainas relationship at which point her father rebukes her stating, Blood and Iron! How dare you question your father his business?......Only dare open your mouth to me again!..... (Yezierska 135). It is this attitude that leads Sara to leave her family and pursue her ambition of teaching. Sara overcomes the challenges of discrimination in class, at hotels, and even at work and completes her education. Sara also encounters problems with her personal life. She is unable to associate with men her own age and finds herself dating older men like the principle of her school (Yezierska 179). When her father tries to marry her off to Max Goldstein, she defies him and refuses to be treated like a piece of property. She also rejects Goldstein for his materialism and walks away from her fathers shadow determined to find true love on her own (Yezierska 199). Sara finally settles down with her school principal, Hugo, and her father later warms up to him.
The American culture lays great emphasis on pursuing ones dreams and being the best one can be. In Bread Givers, my thesis on why the American dream is worth the struggle is important in highlighting the obstacles that people face in their lives. Sara, unlike her three sisters, refused to be held down by tradition and the fear of change, and instead, embraced the American culture and became a successful teacher. On the other hand, her three sisters held on to their tradition and fears, and were left wallowing in poverty. The moral of the story is that no matter how bad the odds appear, it only takes will power and commitment to achieve ones dream.
Yezierska, Anzia. Bread givers. Women's Press, 1984.
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