A Patriarchal World
John Bodnar says it well when he suggests that "the center of everyday life was to be found in the family-household. It was here that past values and present realities were reconciled, examined on an intelligible scale, evaluated and mediated." This assertion implies that the immigrant family-household is the vehicle of assimilation. I will take this assertion a step further and examine more specifically the powerful role of the patriarchal father within Anzia Yezierska's book Bread Givers and Barry Levinson's film Avalon. Yezierska's theme vividly depicts the constraint of a patriarchal world, while Levinson illustrates the process of assimilation and the immigrant, now American, family and its decline. In this paper, I will exemplify how the patriarchal father, Sam Kochinsky (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and Reb Smolinsky are the key determinant of the dynamics by which the family assimilates.
In assimilation, you are said to conform to your surroundings. Assimilation is a process by which you reconcile the ideal with reality. Dealing with virtually three generations of an entire Jewish American immigrant experience, Levinson illustrates not necessarily the merging of two cultures, but possibly the tainting of authenticity, clouding (memories of) the familiar-the villain being the television. The happy community of extended family is, in the end, supplanted by the glowing idiot box that kills conversation and turns its suburban audience into zombies.
In Yezierska's work, she epitomizes the struggle between the Old World and the New World. The patriarchal father, representing traditional Jewish ways, and Sara Smolinsky, the heroine, struggling against her father with the desire to reconcile with reality. In Bread Givers, Yezierska symbolically depicts Sara as the immigrant parting her ways as she embarks anew on the journey that was given to her when she arrived by which to transform her life-dealing with the daily transformation as she struggles to hold together the wants of society and her (families) authenticity in these days of deep troubles. The head of the family, Reb Smolinsky is an immovably Orthodox Jewish rabbi, who lives by the Holy Torah, and expects his family to do the same. His reign over the family reinforces Old World, traditional values and beliefs. Reb holds to the Torah belief that "if they [women] let the man study the Torah in peace, the, maybe, they could push themselves in to heaven with the men, to wait on them there" (Yezierska, 10). Women were to bear the burden of the household as "servants of men" (Yezierska, 9) and let the rabbi to his studies and prayers. He makes it a disgrace and is outraged at times when his daughters try to assimilate into the American culture. He will not allow any part of this New World to invade into his territory.
In the case of the Kochinsky family, assimilation is viewed in a much different light. As patriarchal Sam encourages the American...