The following example essay on “The Bread Givers” is an analysis of a literary work. The article describes the storyline and the images of the main characters.
The book The Bread Givers gives an interesting look into society, specifically the society surrounding women in America during the turn of the twentieth century. This story gives us insight into the Smolinsky family, a poor immigrant household from Poland that is struggling through poverty.
The father of the household, Reb, refuses to take work and instead reads books at home, as is tradition of Jewish scholars.
This poses a major problem since the household is comprised of four other women (Rabs wife and three daughters) and during this time the status quo was for the women to be the caretakers of the house while the man went out and worked. The story focuses mainly on the youngest daughter Sara, Who is sick of living in poverty because of her father’s stubbornness, and runs away from home to create a better life for herself that her parents cannot provide.
In my analysis of the book, The Bread Givers outlines change in America for women during the turn of the twentieth century. The story of Sara and the Smolinsky family gives us insight on the hardships of old time cultures facing the harsh realities of a changing America that has new demands and ideas. The central conflict of the story is one of ideals, Sara wants to adapt and embrace the new American ideals while her father wants to retain their heritage of Jewish values.
These conflicting beliefs are what cause the great divide within the family and what cause turmoil on a more grand scale within the country even to this day.
The idea the book symbolizes is the transitioning period of the traditional colonial view of women, and their role in society. Many changes ensued, especially during the industrial revolution, and leaders of the womens rights movement came forward to show that the role of the woman is more than that of the housemakers that must rely on a husband.
In the beginning of the story there is a confrontation between Saras father and the landlord. Reb Smolinsky cannot pay the rent and hits the landlord, prompting him to be sent to jail, and for a period of time the women must carry on without a man in their home. Without them having to succumb to Rebs wills and finally being able to rent out the room in which Reb would study, Sara begins to no longer feel the need for a man in the household.
It is safe to say that Reb represents old worth values. He has been taught throughout all of his life traditional jewish teachings, such as the idea that God didnt listen to women. Women could get into Heaven because they were wives and daughters of men. Women had no brains for the study of Gods Torah, but they could be the servants of men. Rebs investment into his own belief prevented him from even considering getting a job as a Rabbi because he believes it would turn him into a false prophet selling his religion to Americanized Jews.
Reb loves America for being the land of opportunity, where one can start with nothing and end up becoming a millionaire, but he despises it for granting too much to women. On the other hand Sara represents the new world, one where she sees herself as more than an extension of a man who must show for her, an independent Woman. Sara has wanted to get away from her family her entire life. She hates being poor and resents her father for not providing for them, and keeping them in poverty. But the instant she does have this money, all she wants is to go home and show everyone her capabilities.
Saras problems come from this fact, and that is she is only worried about showing that she as a woman can do great things. I believe this mentality comes from her father pressing the point that she could not and should not be anything more than a wife, and that is why she can do nothing but show off that she is better than that. After finishing college and becoming a teacher, Saras desire to reconnect with her family and show them what she has accomplished drives her back home. While back home, and after blowing off a marriage to a potentially great man in Max Goldstein, all she wants is to convince her parents that her education and independence is what is best for her, and that her parents should be proud of her choices.
When her father is not happy with her choices she is quickly reminded of how her father will always live in the Old World where only men are people (205).Her mother soon after dies of illness and Reb is quick to remarry, stating man must have a wife to keep him pure, otherwise his eyes are tempted by evil(259). It is here that Sara begins to understand why her fathers view of the world is the way it is and why he holds his traditional values so close while the world around him changes, It is simply all that he knows. In a world where all is changed, he alone remained unchanged (296). Rebs beliefs are so ingrained in him that he knows nothing else.
This story is a great insight into what it means to come from a different world and to incorporate into a new one. You can either try to not adapt and hold onto your old values, or disregard those values and become a new person all together. To Reb, his traditions and beliefs are sent to him directly from God, and who is he to defy the word of God himself? This idea of holding on to traditional values and putting the word of god before all else coincides perfectly with how women were perceived during this time period.
The idea of a stay at home mom and a working father is one that has been passed on since roughly the beginning of civilization. With catholic, god fearing ideals being the ecstatic norm during this time period it is easy to see why people would want to carry on this tradition and keep women down, because they know nothing else. A woman going out and making a living for herself or pursuing more than what society believes a woman can do would break the tradition, and people do not like change.
It was sad to see someone like Sara work so hard to become something in the world, and for her choice of hard work to be shot down by her own family because it did not fit their idea of what a woman should be like. Like all things, there must be moderation. It is important to always cherish your heritage and in many cases embrace the teachings that your culture shares. But on the other hand in a world that is constantly changing and evolving, breaking the mold of a tradition that is in place to put you down is something that must always be considered.