Anzia Yezierska’s “Bread Givers”

Resource Kit by
Alan Robert Ginsberg, Lesley Yalen

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In Bread Givers, Anzia Yezierska’s 1925 novel, Sarah Smolinsky escapes the poverty and oppression of life as an Eastern European Jewish immigrant on New York City’s Lower East Side and reinvents herself as a self-reliant American woman. The youngest of four sisters yearning to escape the squalor of the tenements, Sarah is constrained by family obligation, low economic status, religion, and cultural tradition. Her overbearing father is a melamed, a religious scholar and teacher, who presides over his family with implacable paternal authority, mandating traditional gender-specific roles and obligations from which Sarah recoils and rebels. Her mother is trapped in the thankless drudgery of life in the tenements, limits of privation and want, and frustrations imposed by social and religious custom. Sarah’s sisters are consigned to arranged marriages and lives of wifely servitude like their mother. Seeking to avoid this fate, Sarah takes the wrenching step of moving out of her parents’ home, after which she labors to support herself, works her way through college, and becomes a school teacher. Eventually, Sarah tries to reconcile her new life with the family, religion, and culture she can never completely leave behind.

Cover image: Sketch of Anzia Yezierska accompanying an article in the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, March 5, 1921.