Character Study: Sara Smolinsky in Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska

“Bread Givers” was written by Anzia Yezierska and published in 1925.  The book concerns the coming of age of Sara Smolinsky. At the start of the book, Sara lives with her father, Reb Smolinsky, her mother Shenah, and her three older sisters named Bessie, Fania, and Mashah, in a tenement on the Lower East Side of New York City. Sara’s parents are Polish Jews who had immigrated to America to escape the pogroms (the anti-Jewish persecutions and riots) in their native country. The Smolinskys are desperately poor. The Five Smolinsky women struggling daily for simply enough money survive. Meanwhile, Reb Smolinsky spends his days concerning himself only  with the study of the Torah; the Jewish sacred texts.

Sara is the youngest of the Smolinsky daughters and narrator of the novel. She is also the most fiercely independent of the four girls. More than anything, Sara wants to have a life of her own choosing. She thinks highly of her father’s devotion to study.  She is also very angry at his insincerity and the fact that he denies his daughters freedom of choice. Sara is interested in men with similar dedication as her father. However, she also wants someone more understanding than Reb Smolinsky, and also a life companion who will recognize and value Sara for her own sake, not just as a wife and mother.Sara works hard to get what she wants, but her perpetual yearning for camaraderie and her propensity to idealize her circumstances often distracts her.

The motivating force in Sara’s life is her wish to find her own form of the flame she sees burning in her father.  She hungers to find something, anything, which will move her. As a teenager, she thinks of becoming a teacher. Later, she discovers books that feed her mind on a day by day basis. When she starts to understand what it might take to find an inner fire, the first thing she wishes to do is reveal it to her father, thinking he is the only one she knows that will really understand. For Sara, knowledge is the only thing in the world that she wants. So, she devotes tremendous time and energy to obtaining it.

As she learns more, Sara also sharpens her sense of outrage at the wrongs done by others. She protests at the restaurant when the cook serves her less food just because she is a woman. She is enraged with her feckless brothers-in-law because they hurt her sisters. She also starts to hate her father when she understands the ways he has denied his daughters, her older sisters, lives of their own. This necessity to battle injustice also helps her resolve things with her father. After her mother dies, Sara notices the way Reb Smolinsky’s new wife treats him and she mulls over the prospect of once more living in the same house with her father. In spite of the fact that she fears that her father will try and control her again, her father’s inner flame is endangered, and Sara knows the importance of keeping that passion going.

ARTICLE SOURCES
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