Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers attacks several social norms of both hertraditional Polish homeland and the American life her protagonist has cometo know. Clearly autobiographical, Bread Givers boldly questions why certainsocial and religious traditions continue throughout the centuries withoutthe slightest consideration for an individual’s interests or desires. Sara’straditional Jewish upbringing exposed her to a life dominated by patriarchalcontrol; when she arrived in New York to seek out the American Dream, shefound that once again her gender would stand in the way of such desires. Inspite of these cultural barriers, her mother understood Sara’s burning questto 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 itsoften-elusive fulfillment? Indeed, the American Dream has come to representthe attainment of myriad goals that are specific to each individual; whileone person might consider a purchased home with a white picket fence herversion of the American Dream, another might regard it as the financialability to operate his own business. Clearly, there is no cut and drieddefinition of the American Dream as long as any two people hold a differentmeaning. What it does universally represent, however, is the opportunity forpeople like Sara to seek out their individual and collective desires under apolitical umbrella of democracy. “More and more I began to think insidemyself, I don’t want to sell fish for the rest of my days.
I want to learnsomething. I want to do something. I want some day to make myself for aperson and come among people” (Yezierska PG).Driven to the United States by way of their oppressive homeland, Sara’sfamily may have believed that this nation’s streets are paved with goldwhere opportunities abound for lifelong prosperity, however, none of themtook the initiative to find out for themselves. Rather, they were content toscrape out a meager living just to have adequate food on the table and aroof over their heads.
Sara would have none of this, realizing early on thatif she wanted to make something of herself she would have to work many timesharder than her male counterpart – a sacrifice she was more than willing tomake if it meant establishing a life of her own. “How glad I was that I hadnot stopped at the husk-a good job-a good living-but pressed on, through thebarriers of materialism. Through my inarticulate groping and reaching-out Ihad found the soul-the spirit-of America!” (Yezierska PG).Sara’s experiences during her migration to the United States mirrors thoseof others who, like her, sought a better life than the one they left behindin their homelands. Marred by frequent struggles and frustration, the lifeof an immigrant was also a source of happiness and celebration for those whofound their ultimate dream in American. Addressing such questions as why didpeople come to seek a new life in the United States, what were theirexpectations and did they change after they arrived, as well as how doautobiographies better enable society to understand historical issuessurrounding immigration, Yezierska effectively resolves such details withher insightful account.
Bread Givers tellingly reflects a time of drastic change, both within Sara’spersonal life as well as in the lives of her family. The author’s account ofthe American Dream was not as rosy as perhaps she had anticipated, notingthat her reality was in a constant state of chaos and lacking essentialdiscipline. By this observation, Yezierska became quickly disillusioned withAmerican capitalistic customs and habits, stating that they were at the rootof social demise. However, this was not the case for the majority ofimmigrants from that period. Eager to leave behind social oppression, genderdiscrimination and seek a significantly more prosperous existence, mostfound America to be a place full of opportunity.
Women, in particular,sought relief from the imbalance of gender roles, desirable of new horizonswhen it came to the inadequacy of conventional behavior modes.Bread Givers possesses many important feminist components that, if not takenin their direct context, will be overlooked by the average reader. It isessential to also look beyond the author’s obvious intention with regard tothe history of gender, feminism and patriarchal control, as well ascapitalism and the American Dream, so as not to miss the grand but elusivesubtleties.
“A woman without a man is less than nothing. A woman without aman can never enter Heaven” (Yezierska PG). To be sure, Yezierska’s writingincorporates a significant amount of blatancy while also implyingconsiderable obscurity, a dichotomy that serves well her account of women’splace in historical society. Without question, Bread Givers provides aunique insight into the relationships that exist between and among men,women, society and the outright expectations from them all.
Also evidentwithin the very essence of this historical chronicling is the manner inwhich it illustrates the compassion inherent within such a composer as AnziaYezierska.One can gather from Yezierska’s Bread Givers that throughout society,patriarchy has been responsible for designing women’s role in society; manyof these devices used in earlier centuries were related to religion. Certainscripture regularly challenged women to disprove that they were inferior-tonot agree was heresy.
When religion did not work alone, scientific theorywas included as a factor in the equation that supported the ideal that womenare inferior. Based upon a conviction of inferiority, male authorities werethen 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, societaland cultural roles at one time. Not concerned with appearance, the authorwants her feelings to be known with regard to her stance on feminism:traditionally, the man remains in control with the woman submissive.
“Ibegan to feel I was different than my sisters…
If they ever had times theyhated Father, they were too frightened of themselves to confess…But couldI 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 thestrength and spirituality of women by recognizing the inconsistenciesbetween men and women, and being bold enough to comment upon them. Theauthor’s courageous attempts to conquer the timeworn gender bias withinAmerican society are highly commendable. She dares to dispute the idea ofpatriarchy through sincerity and a passion burning from within as a means bywhich to help her female counterparts recognize the unbalancedresponsibilities of womanhood. Yezierska’s words speak clearly and with aboldness that surpasses expression.
Her recognition that women possess somuch more within their souls than merely remaining the oppressed femalecounterpart of an egotistical male is startling.Carrying forth the burden that has plagued women for centuries, Yezierska’sBread Givers attempts to alter the historical concept of patriarchy withinthe boundaries of Western epistemology. In the author’s opinion, the age-oldgender molds are ripe for revamping and bringing into the present frame ofconsciousness. No longer are women to be made to suffer through anoppressive existence simply because it is mandated by religious; rather,Yezierska paints a new picture of a strong, intelligent woman who will notbe coerced by the irrational expectations of an oppressive, patriarchalsociety.