Bread Givers

Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers attacks several social norms of both her
traditional Polish homeland and the American life her protagonist has come
to know. Clearly autobiographical, Bread Givers boldly questions why certain
social and religious traditions continue throughout the centuries without
the slightest consideration for an individual’s interests or desires. Sara’s
traditional Jewish upbringing exposed her to a life dominated by patriarchal
control; when she arrived in New York to seek out the American Dream, she
found that once again her gender would stand in the way of such desires. In
spite of these cultural barriers, her mother understood Sara’s burning quest
to break free from traditional molds: “…When she begins to want a thing,
there is no rest, no let-up till she gets it” (Yezierska PG).

What is the American Dream, and who are the people most likely to pursue its
often-elusive fulfillment? Indeed, the American Dream has come to represent
the attainment of myriad goals that are specific to each individual; while
one person might consider a purchased home with a white picket fence her
version of the American Dream, another might regard it as the financial
ability to operate his own business. Clearly, there is no cut and dried
definition of the American Dream as long as any two people hold a different
meaning. What it does universally represent, however, is the opportunity for
people like Sara to seek out their individual and collective desires under a
political umbrella of democracy. “More and more I began to think inside
myself, I don’t want to sell fish for the rest of my days. I want to learn
something. I want to do something. I want some day to make myself for a
person and come among people” (Yezierska PG).

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Driven to the United States by way of their oppressive homeland, Sara’s
family may have believed that this nation’s streets are paved with gold
where opportunities abound for lifelong prosperity, however, none of them
took the initiative to find out for themselves. Rather, they were content to
scrape out a meager living just to have adequate food on the table and a
roof over their heads. Sara would have none of this, realizing early on that
if she wanted to make something of herself she would have to work many times
harder than her male counterpart – a sacrifice she was more than willing to
make if it meant establishing a life of her own. “How glad I was that I had
not stopped at the husk-a good job-a good living-but pressed on, through the
barriers of materialism. Through my inarticulate groping and reaching-out I
had found the soul-the spirit-of America!” (Yezierska PG).

Sara’s experiences during her migration to the United States mirrors those
of others who, like her, sought a better life than the one they left behind
in their homelands. Marred by frequent struggles and frustration, the life
of an immigrant was also a source of happiness and celebration for those who
found their ultimate dream in American. Addressing such questions as why did
people come to seek a new life in the United States, what were their
expectations and did they change after they arrived, as well as how do
autobiographies better enable society to understand historical issues
surrounding immigration, Yezierska effectively resolves such details with
her insightful account.

Bread Givers tellingly reflects a time of drastic change, both within Sara’s
personal life as well as in the lives of her family. The author’s account of
the American Dream was not as rosy as perhaps she had anticipated, noting
that her reality was in a constant state of chaos and lacking essential
discipline. By this observation, Yezierska became quickly disillusioned with
American capitalistic customs and habits, stating that they were at the root
of social demise. However, this was not the case for the majority of
immigrants from that period. Eager to leave behind social oppression, gender
discrimination and seek a significantly more prosperous existence, most
found America to be a place full of opportunity. Women, in particular,
sought relief from the imbalance of gender roles, desirable of new horizons
when it came to the inadequacy of conventional behavior modes.

Bread Givers possesses many important feminist components that, if not taken
in their direct context, will be overlooked by the average reader. It is
essential to also look beyond the author’s obvious intention with regard to
the history of gender, feminism and patriarchal control, as well as
capitalism and the American Dream, so as not to miss the grand but elusive
subtleties. “A woman without a man is less than nothing. A woman without a
man can never enter Heaven” (Yezierska PG). To be sure, Yezierska’s writing
incorporates a significant amount of blatancy while also implying
considerable obscurity, a dichotomy that serves well her account of women’s
place in historical society. Without question, Bread Givers provides a
unique insight into the relationships that exist between and among men,
women, society and the outright expectations from them all. Also evident
within the very essence of this historical chronicling is the manner in
which it illustrates the compassion inherent within such a composer as Anzia

One can gather from Yezierska’s Bread Givers that throughout society,
patriarchy has been responsible for designing women’s role in society; many
of these devices used in earlier centuries were related to religion. Certain
scripture regularly challenged women to disprove that they were inferior-to
not agree was heresy. When religion did not work alone, scientific theory
was included as a factor in the equation that supported the ideal that women
are inferior. Based upon a conviction of inferiority, male authorities were
then able to design lifestyles for women, including approved activities,
mannerism, education, sexuality and religious pursuits.

Influential in both style and content, Bread Givers attacks gender, societal
and cultural roles at one time. Not concerned with appearance, the author
wants her feelings to be known with regard to her stance on feminism:
traditionally, the man remains in control with the woman submissive. “I
began to feel I was different than my sisters…If they ever had times they
hated Father, they were too frightened of themselves to confess…But could
I help it what was inside me? I had to feel what I felt even it killed me”
(Yezierska PG). Through her insights, Yezierska attempts to push forward the
strength and spirituality of women by recognizing the inconsistencies
between men and women, and being bold enough to comment upon them. The
author’s courageous attempts to conquer the timeworn gender bias within
American society are highly commendable. She dares to dispute the idea of
patriarchy through sincerity and a passion burning from within as a means by
which to help her female counterparts recognize the unbalanced
responsibilities of womanhood. Yezierska’s words speak clearly and with a
boldness that surpasses expression. Her recognition that women possess so
much more within their souls than merely remaining the oppressed female
counterpart of an egotistical male is startling.

Carrying forth the burden that has plagued women for centuries, Yezierska’s
Bread Givers attempts to alter the historical concept of patriarchy within
the boundaries of Western epistemology. In the author’s opinion, the age-old
gender molds are ripe for revamping and bringing into the present frame of
consciousness. No longer are women to be made to suffer through an
oppressive existence simply because it is mandated by religious; rather,
Yezierska paints a new picture of a strong, intelligent woman who will not
be coerced by the irrational expectations of an oppressive, patriarchal


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