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Bread Givers: Challenges that Sara Faces as a Woman

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Jane Doe
Literature 145
Professor John Doe
3 April 2018

Challenges That Sara Faces as a Woman in Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska

Bread Givers is a novel written by Anzia Yezierska in 1925 that chronicles the life of an immigrant Jewish girl living with the family in Lower East New York. The novel depicts various several themes among them the various challenges that women face in their traditional families. One of the characters, Sara Smolinsky is particularly used by the author to portray this theme.

Sara’s father Reb Smolinsky is a staunch Jew whose entire life revolves around his religion. He devotes his entire time to studying the Jewish holy text, the Torah, and several other holy books. The spirit that he supposedly gathers from reading these texts fills him with a shining holy light that appeases others but to his family, the spirit causes problems when he confuses his spiritual wisdom with worldly wisdom.

The first challenge that Sara faces is abject poverty. She is forced to leave under extremely poor conditions most of which are of her father’s making. Her father’s lack of wisdom in American business practices often causes him trouble. For instance, he is swindled on a number of occasions. His insistence on basing everything on his faith renders him unable to improve the economic status of his family and they thus remain in abject poverty for a long time.

While trying to assimilate into the American culture, and as she tries to come up with a self identity, Sara is faced with a couple of challenges. She was born into a family or a community where women were considered to be the main source of income and as such, she was habituated to working hard so to provide for the family.

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She did not have any time for herself or anything for herself. Ideas had been instilled deep into her mind that she needed to earn money to support her family, therefore allowing her father with his duty of reading and teaching the holy Jewish text. Since her father’s preaching is actually the only way of living that she knows, she inadvertently has a torrent time seeing beyond this life and other things that may be out there. In many occasions, she reflects on the deep desire that she has of being alone. Unfortunately, this is not a privilege that her Jewish as well as her poor state allows.

Even when she is making the conscious decision to leave her family in search of a new life, she has a hard time in making the decision. She is unfortunately forced to prioritize her interest at the expense of those of her family. For instance, in departing, she tells her mother that “I could see you later, but I cannot go to college later” (Yezierska 171). This is obviously not a simple decision especially given her family background.

“Although Sara views her family as a stumbling block to her becoming an Americanized individual, she later discovers that her family will forever and always be part of her and will also be around her wherever she goes” (Deloia 23). Sara also faces the challenge of limited opportunity. Together with her sisters, she is unable to venture out of her Jewish realm and in fact, it is only when goes to college that she is able to interact with normal Americans and learns that there is a life beyond the Jewish religion.

In addition, Sara also faces a challenge in fully assimilating the American society because the novel’s setting is a period when even the American society designated a woman’s place as the home and not at offices or other work places. In this case, it is almost as if her Jewish heritage was the favorable option because it was in fact the only heritage at the time that had a tradition that allowed members of the female gender to work out of their homes. ” “Other groups like the refereed American society had reservations about allowing the women to venture into activities that took place out of their homes” (Harris 12).

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Perhaps the most surprising challenge that Sara faces is the fact that she will never really be free from her traditional family values. Even after attending college and becoming relatively emancipated, Sarah realizes that a part of her still misses her family. In fact when she meets her father under deplorable conditions, she is forced to make a decision of inviting him to live with her so that he can take care of him.

In conclusion, Anzia Yezierska’s Breadwinner’s novel is “a testament of the various challenges that women faced in traditional American societies before the emergence of the women’s movements which relatively gave women a new set of rights as well a cultural liberation” (Deloia 16). Through Sara, the reader is able to see the problems and challenges that women in traditional Jewish societies had to face in their fight for emancipation. Although the novel is largely autobiographical, the author was able to incorporate some new elements that included problems and challenges different from her own so as to paint a wider picture of stature of women in the Jewish community.

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Works Cited

Deloia, Shlomo. “Retrieving the Footprints: Passing into Whiteness and the Construction of Jewish American Cultural Identity in Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers.” MA thesis, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, 2006.

Harris, Alice K. Foreword and Introduction. Bread Givers, by Anzia Yezierska, 3rd ed., Persea Books, 2003, pp. 10-17.

Yezierska, Anzia. Bread Givers, 3rd ed., Persea Books, 2003.


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