Bread Givers -- America Gives

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

Sara's father blames his family and particularly its all-female nature for his difficulties, but his real difficulty is that he must give up his old structures and ways of regarding labor, life, and his daughters. Even as an Orthodox Rabbi who clings to old ways, these ways cannot be fully imposed upon the economic culture of America, where financial profit and trade is all. Likewise, Sara is exposed to too many different models of womanhood to be fully satisfied with the life of her mother and older sisters, or the arranged marriage her father wishes to accept.

But even if America is a land of greater opportunity and freedom of speech, Sara comes to realize that it is hardly a paradise of perfection. Even when no longer required to sacrifice as her sisters did, she must sacrifice a great deal to realize her dreams and complete the wrenching process of creating a new culture in dialogue with her Jewish heritage and her new status as an American woman. Ultimately, she must work for many years, studying part time, before realizing her dream of becoming a teacher.

In many ways, Sara's fate is unsatisfying for the reader, for Sara must labor to realize her intellectual dreams in a way that her father did not have to. Even in the land of greater equality and opportunity of America, no one is completely free of the demands of the cruelties of the economy -- neither Sarah nor her father. The capitalist economy extracts a heavy price from the scholar, and a heavy cultural price of a man who came to America, seeking to recreate a certain religious way of life in an atmosphere of tolerance. But even though America may be religiously less persecutory than Europe, it makes merciless economic demands that are almost as depleting to Sara's father's soul and sense of manhood.

However, as negative as Sara's relationship is with her father at the onset of the book, this acts as a spur to achievement and to fully take advantage of the opportunities of America, and to willingly suffer some of the marketplace demands, something her father was not willing to do in the pursuit of his own education and study. Much as it is easy to say that Sara broke away from the Old World, while her father and other family members, such as Reb, did not, this would be too easy a sublimation of the complexities of what Sara becomes, by the end of the novel. Her valuation of education still ties her to her Jewish heritage, and to her father's stress upon this as the only way to live a fulfilling life. She will not fully, in her mind, conform to the American ideal of profit above all; including knowledge, for she believes knowledge is still the light of the world, as her father taught her. Sara brings this sense of the value of scholarship to the larger American culture, in a more gender inclusive way than her father was able to.

Thus Sara's experience and personal integrity adds a valuable and softening element to the ruthless nature of the American culture and marketplace. By becoming an integral part of American economic and cultural life, Sara is able to reform some of America's excesses as well as becoming subject to American capitalism's financial and personal demands. She gives more than mere money and bread to America, she gives a more nuanced version of its cultural freedoms and values 'back' to its marketplace of ideas as well.

Works Cited

Yezierska, Anzia. The Bread Givers. New York Persea…