Study Guide

Bread Givers

by Anzia Yezierska

Bread Givers Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Hester Street, heart of Jewish immigrant life on New York’s Lower East Side in the early twentieth century, with its blend of poverty, dirt, and religious fervor, is the colorful milieu of Sara Smolinsky, Bread Givers’ main character. The youngest of four daughters born to a Polish Judaic scholar and his wife, Sara personifies the clash between the demands of tradition and the beckoning opportunities of a new land— America.

Sara’s first-person narration recollects those incidents of her childhood and young adult life which shape her ambition. Sara’s journey to independence is obstructed by the conditions of poverty and the traditional expectations of Jewish women, yet she fights the often bitter battle to, as she says, “make myself for a person,” with determination. At age ten, she earns money by peddling herring in the street. Along with the sweatshop earnings of her three older sisters and her mother, who takes in boarders, Sara shares the burden of her father’s household. The contrast between the apparent luxury of Mr. Smolinsky’s time, spent in prayer, spiritual contemplation, and religious study, and the unending toil which falls to the women, is decreed by the holy law of the Torah. As Mr. Smolinsky is quick to remind his family, “women get into heaven because they were the wives and daughters of men. Women had no brains for the study of God’s Torah, but they could be the servants of men who studied the Torah.”

As she sees her sisters bargained away into arranged marriages which make Mr. Smolinsky’s reputation as a professional matchmaker, Sara’s will hardens against him...

(The entire section is 670 words.)

Bread Givers Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Crocco, Margaret S. “Women’s History of the 1920’s: A Look at Anzia Yezierska and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.” Social Education 59 (January, 1995): 29-30. Crocco compares Yezierska’s Bread Givers with works by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Both authors express the dilemmas women face when having to choose between a home life and a career.

Dearborn, Mary V. Love in the Promised Land: The Story of Anzia Yezierska and John Dewey. New York: Free Press, 1988. Details the relationship between Yezierska and philosopher John Dewey. Dearborn provides insights into Yezierska’s private life as well as her career as a writer.

Ferraro, Thomas J. “ Working Ourselves Up’ in America: Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers.” South Atlantic Quarterly 89 (Summer, 1990): 547-581. Ferraro profiles Yezierska and offers an extended discussion of Bread Givers, her other novels, her short fiction, and her sketches.

Henriksen, Louise L. Anzia Yezierska: A Writer’s Life. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1982. A biography of Yezierska, with an analysis of her writings and overview of her career.

Rhoades, Chip. “Education as Liberation: The Case of Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers.” Science and Society 57 (Fall, 1993): 294-312. Rhoades...

(The entire section is 479 words.)