The novel The Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska Analysis
The novel The Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska tells about a traditional Jewish family immigrating to America and the problems that they face. In the book, Father, Reb Smolinsky, is bothersome and irritating instead of helping his wife and daughters in maintaining the household. His hypocrisy was very cruel. He married his daughters to men who they loved did not love. Lastly, Father was negligent to his daughter Sara. Although a reader can draw sympathy towards him because he is naive and does not know how things work in the ‘New World’, he shows that he is very mean and cruel throughout the story.
Reb Smolinsky was a contemptible individual. First of all, Father’s hypocrisy was cruel and cold. For example, when his daughter, Sara, came to visit the family and her sick mother, after she completed her college education he scolded her. “A lot from it. She’s only good to the world and not her father. Will she hand me her wages from school like a dutiful daughter should? ” (page 248) This was Father’s response to her success. Sara could not even afford to buy good clothing in college. She starved herself just to pay the tuition and rent.
There is no way she could have sent her father money. When the doctor arrives to the home later to check on Sara’s sick mother Father introduces his daughters to him. He boasts about Sara becoming a teacher. He says that she takes after himself and that he paid for all of her education. Another example of his hypocrisy is when Father wanted to become some one greater, a businessman. He took the money he got from his son-in-laws and bought a store. When the Smolinsky family found out that the store was a fake setup and that all their money was squandered, they yelled at Father.
Mother grabbed Father by the front of his coat trying to shake him out of his calmness. Mother then said, “Now that the girls are married and no wages coming in, what shall we live on? ” (page 124) This was Mothers reaction to the disaster. Eventually the whole family forgave Father for what they saw was a grave blunder. When Sara left home and wanted to become something greater instead of supporting her Father financially for life, he disowned her. He thought she was wasting her time and money on classes and she should put her money into helping the family.
Father also wanted Sara to marry Max Goldstein, but she refused to. In his opinion, she had committed several serious errors. Throughout the rest of the story he did not apologize to her for his abusive treatment, yet his family forgave him. Reb is a hypocrite who makes his family feel servile. Another way in which Reb Smolinsky makes readers feel contempt is by marrying his daughters to people who are rich, and not to people who his daughters truly loved. He did this for his own gain and not for the good of his daughters.
For instance, his daughter Mashah was in love with a pianist by the name of Jacob Novak. Father did not like Jacob because Jacob’s father did not allow him to visit Mashah before and after one of his important symphonies. In this way Father thought of him as a deserter and did not like him. He would not allow her to see him and marriage was out of the question. Instead, Father got a diamond dealer named Moe Mirsky to marry Mashah. After the marriage Mashah came home one night and told her family that Moe was a fake. He worked at a diamond jewelry shop and borrowed some jewelry to show off.
He had now lost that job and had no money. “Empty-head! Where were your brains? Didn’t you go out with the man a whole month before you were married? Couldn’t you see he was a swindler and a crook when you talked to him? ” This was Father’s reaction. He blamed the whole situation on Mashah although he had arranged the marriage. Father only married Mashah to him so he could get some money; there was no true love between them. Father also made his daughter Bessie marry someone she did not love. He made her marry a fish peddler by the name of Zalmon.
Zalmon had a good amount of money that father wanted. Zalmon was in his late 50’s and had six small children. The children were to become a great burden on Bessie. Father’s greed landed his daughters in dreadful relationships. Lastly, instead of supporting his daughter Sara throughout her schooling Father outcasted her. Sara Smolinsky ran away from home due to Father’s constant persecution. Sara started to attend school with her own hard earned money. She really needed support emotionally and wished Father came to visit. One night Father came to visit her and scolded her.
He told her that she was wasting her time and nothing would amount to her classes. He spat angry words in her face and disowned her. He did this all because Sara refused Max Goldstein, a potential suitor for her picked by Father. Most parents of that time and today would never do such a thing. The responsibility of parents is to raise their children, teach them right from wrong, educate them, and support them emotionally and financially. Father did not do all of this. He might have told her right from wrong and taught her about the Torah, but did so in a very narrow-minded sense.
Sara suffered for her father’s self-centeredness and irresponsibility. Reb Smolinsky makes readers feel he is an evil individual. His unethical and disturbing actions would send him directly to jail today. Father treated his family to the point where it became disgusting. He married his daughters to abusive and unconcerned men. He scrutinized every error his family made, but said nothing when he, himself committed a wrong. He was also ignorant of his parental responsibilities. Reb Smolinsky can therefore be classified as a contemptible character.