Freedom is Not Free in Bread Givers
Anzia Yezierska in Bread Givers and "Children of Loneliness" explores the theme of reconciling assimilation to American culture and retaining her cultural heritage. "Richard F. Shepard asserted in the New York Times that Yezierska’s people…did not want to find themselves. They wanted to lose themselves and find America" (Gale Database 8). Rachel and Sara, the main characters, move ahead by employing the America motto of hard work will pay off. The problem for both is losing their Jewish identity in the process. Yezierska, like the female characters, experienced the loneliness of separation from the Jewish people when she rose above poverty. "I am alone because I left my own world" (Ebest 8). She explores this issue repeatedly in her work trying to find a solution to a problem with no easy answer.
In order to obtain religious, social, political, and equality 23 million Jews immigrated to America during the years between 1880 and 1920 (Chametzky, 5). Anzia Yezierska wrote about her experiences as a poor immigrant in her fictional work becoming a voice of the Jewish people in the1920s. She struggled to obtain an education that allowed her to rise above her family’s poverty and gain a measure of autonomy. Rachel and Sara, the female protagonists, mirror the author’s life going from struggling immigrant to college graduate. Yezierska uses her own experiences to portray the Jewish immigrant experience with a woman’s perspective. She successfully gained a commercial following that allowed her to mediate the cultural differences between the mainstream culture and the Jewish people that helped resolve differences between the established Americans and these new immigrants for a time (Ebest 12). During the 1930s her work dropped in popularity and the depression ended publication of many of the periodicals she had contributed her work. Bread Givers was re-discovered in the 1970s as an early example of feminist literature and led to the re-examination of her works.
In the Bread Givers, Sara watches her father chase away Berel from marrying her sister Bessie and selects instead for her a diamond merchant who appears rich. Traditionally, with approval of the engagement a dowry would be given to the prospective husband. Instead, Father insisted on money from Berel and the marriage is off. Bessie is eventually married to a fishmonger in a loveless match against her wishes as are her other sisters. Sara decides to break away on her own rather than suffer the same fate as her sisters. "Should I let him crush me as he crushed them? No. This is America, where children are people" (Bread Givers 135). Sara has become American enough to realize she has the right to choose her own life rather than follow her father’s beliefs. She speaks up to her father in contrast to the rest of the family who obey Father’s wishes declaring her independence. "The Old World has struck its last on me" (Bread Givers 138). She has...