In 1925 Anzia Yerierska published her most well known novel “Bread Givers.” She grew up in a Polish Jewish family a lot like family in the novel. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was a child. Her father was a Talmudic scholar so her mother had to work to bring home the bread like in the title . . . to give the bread to her family. When Anzia was old enough she had to work. Her work was in a sweatshop so it was very difficult. She worked hard in very bad conditions. Finally she was able to put herself through Columbia University. She seems a lot like Sara the youngest daughter in the novel.
Chapter 4 of the “Bread Givers” is devoted to the romance of the most beautiful sister, Mashah. Sara, the sister of Mashah and the narrator of the story tells us right away that their father has nicknamed Mashah “empty-headed.” Such a mean nickname! The reason Mashah was nicknamed “empty-headed” was because she was very vain. She was like a wooden doll with no brain who only cared about making herself as beautiful as possible. (Yezierska 53)
Until one day when Mashah changed completely. Sara explains that Mashah changed into “a singing sunshine” (Yezierska 53). She heard beautiful piano music and fell in love with the boy who was playing the music. The boy fell in love with Mashah too. But his family was rich and hers was poor. The boy’s father did not want him to have anything to do with Mashah. And then Mashah’s father wanted Mashah to have nothing to do with the boy. Mashah continued her new habit of cleaning the house but the light went out of Mashah’s eye. Sara became changed too. She was sure she was not like the rest of her family.
Sara knew that she was not like Mashah who brought flowers home and set the table with white napkins so Jacob would dine in the style of his rich family. Sara on the other hand knew the best way to have a better life was to have enough money. Jacob stopped coming to the house because his father wouldn’t allow him to see Mashah. Feeling badly for her sister, Sara took Jacob a note from Mashah. Jacob felt so guilty that he ran to ask forgiveness from Mashah. Ironically Mashah’s father forbade her from seeing Jacob; making her chose between her father and Jacob and Mahad never saw Jacob again.
Sara could no longer pretend to herself that she loved her father. She couldn’t even love God because God had put her in the house where the mother was unhappy from doing all the work to bring money while the father studied all the time. Sara realized, “I want to learn something. I want to do something. I want some day to make myself for a person and come among people. But how can I do it if I live in this hell house of Father’s preaching and Mother’s complaining?” (Yezierska 63)
Sara’s dilemma at the end of Chapter 4 is this: how could she ever become an individual who could be on her own without her family. She only knew that daughters left families when they got married. But in her house the father chose the bridegrooms.
She despaired that anyone would want to marry her anyway, a girl who worked selling herring and so smelled like herring. Sara is still very young but her strength and resolve are starting to show themselves; although the reader can smile a little bit at when Sara tells herself, “I’d want an American born man who was his own boss. And would let me be my own boss. And no fathers, and no mothers, and no sweatshops, and no herrings.” Sara is definitely growing up. (Yezierska 63)
Yezierska, A. 1952. “Breadgivers.Chapter 4”. Title of Anthology. Ed. first name last name. city publ, stat publ: publisher, year. 53-63. Print.
Anzia Yezierska's Bread Givers. 2011. The Eclectic Reader. 18 March 2 Web. 24 Jan. 2012.