Bread Givers Essay, Research Paper
What it Means to Be a Female Immigrate
In the novel, Bread Givers, author Anzia Yezierska tells the story of life as an immigrate in the Untied States. For many immigrates, the U.S. was the key to a better life; a life free of economic depression and religious oppression. America was a fantasy to many. Sara’s father lectures to his wife about not needing a feather bed; “Don’t you know it is always summer in America? And in the new golden country, where milk and honey flows free in the streets, you’ll have new golden dishes to cook in “(Bread Givers, 9) To much dismay, the realization that America was not a land of golden streets comes too quickly. Flooded with people, New York’s Lower East Side becomes a place of poverty for most. Immigrates find themselves living in slums, where dirt and disease runs rampant. Life was arduous for immigrates. However, according to Yezierska, life as a female was much worse. In the 1920’s, an immigrates’ gender ultimately decided what experience he/she would have in America, for it was better to be a male than a female.
In Russia, the “Old World”, it was preached that a woman was only on Earth to make her husband happy. In order to get into Heaven, a women had to have a man at her side. America, the “New World, was mingled with different cultures. A female in America, no longer had to live solely for her husband. This clash of conceptions was the cause of numerous confrontations. This can be seen after the father drove away Jacob, Bessie’s true love. Sara titles him ” a tyrant more terrible than the Tsar from Russia.”(Bread Givers, 65) Sara’s sister’s could not enjoy their lives as American’s because of the strong hold their father had on them. As Sara watches her sisters auctioned off one by one into lifeless marriages, she vows not to be like them. All of this would never happen if they were men because men were not slaves to the female race.
The struggles of being female were not confined to the house; it leaked out into the work place as well. It was said that men were the bread givers, but that notion was twisted in Sara’s home. Since, Rabbi Smolinsky devoted all his time to prayer and the Synagogue, the task of feeding the family was left to the mother and daughters. Yes, men had to work during this time as well but they received better jobs, better pay and did not have to wait in crowded lines for a half a day only to find out the position had been filled. At one point Fania talks about trying to get a job in a shirt factory, ” there was such a crowd of us tearing the clothes from our bodies and scratching each other’s eyes in the mad pushings[sic] to get in first And after we waited for hours and hours only two girls were taken.” In the work place, men had a level of respect that was given freely to them; women had to work for this respect which hardly ever came. Sara finds this out when the cafeteria lady refuses to give her a piece of meat with her stew, while the man behind her gets “thick chunks of meat.” To this Sara replies, “But why did she give more to the man just because he was a man?”(Bread Givers, 169) Here again, if only Sara was a man she would not have had to gone through the embarrassment of getting food.
The process of “Americanization” came relatively smoothly for immigrate men because of the roles that were placed on genders. Even though the 19th Amendment was passed in the 1920’s, women were still viewed as house wives and nothing more. Males could get a job without a great deal of hassle, furthermore they were not ridiculed when the desire to attend college arouse. Women in contrast, had to fight for respect and opportunities. In the end, Sara was able to break her ties with the “Old World” and become an American. This was not a simple path and took much time. It was not laziness, or lack of ambition that delayed her quest; it was her gender.