Throughout a lifetime, one is constantly told time and time again to not judge a book by its cover. Those who invest a great deal of their time into literature, however, know that the title of a book in many cases is an indicator of the overall message the author wishes to convey to those willing to take the time to analyze the text. This certainly rings true for the novel Bread Givers. This novel explores many aspects of individuality and personal definition of one's self with respect to gender, class, and religion, focusing on a group of women forced to live under the same roof with a man who genuinely feels that, according to the Torah, a woman without her husband or father is "less than nothing" (205). Yezierska gives the title its meaning through the characters' references and allusions to it and further exploration and analysis of what the phrase means to them individually should reveal why the term Bread Givers was deemed to hold so much significance that it was ultimately chosen as the book's namesake.
Reb Smolinsky is the father of Bessie, Fania, Mashah and Sara, as well as the husband of Shena. According to him, clearly the novel's patriarch, women are worthless without a husband or father to run their life and tell them what to do at all times. He is ultimately the novel's main bread giver, unfortunately, he does not provide for his family because he feels that work may interfere with his study of the Torah. To him, a bread giver must only posses one quality; to be a man. His view is very traditional and does not allow a place in society that women may come into their own and flourish as an individual. When Sara leaves for college, he denounces her choice to pursuit an education and even states that "Woe to America, where women are let free like men" (205). Although he would clearly assert that he is the bread giver of his family, the family is financially reliant on Bessie and, rather than show his appreciation of this, Reb ridicules her, referring to her as an "old maid". He even refuses to allow her to marry the man she loves, Berel Bernstein, because he will not give him money to start a business and without her, the family will have a hard time obtaining money. It is clear that Reb's idea of a bread giver is not one who bears the burden of the family's finances and well being; rather, it is the patriarch of the household. He is quick to make sure that everyone under his roof recognizes his authority, yet feels no responsibility towards maintaining and sustaining the quality of their life.
Certainly it can be argued that Sara is the novel's quintessential free spirit. From the beginning of the novel it is obvious that her definition, and more importantly, the significance in one's life of a bread giver, conflicts greatly with the views of her father. While she unquestionably feels that a bread giver should be responsible for the overall welfare, financially and otherwise, of their constituents, it is her contempt of the idea that one must submit themselves and be subordinate to a bread giver that causes conflict. One must have a bread giver, however, one can be their own bread giver under the circumstances that they receive the education needed and/or work had enough to make it on their own. She perceives the notion of a bread giver as a choice. If you feel the need to become subservient to a man in exchange for him playing the role of bread giver in your life, then by all means do it, but it is not necessary to one's survival to do so. She feels that anyone who submits themselves to a bread giver is not worthy of her time, as she expresses in regards to the man that Mashah loves when she says "No, I wouldn't even want one like Jacob Novak, even if he was a piano player, if he ate the bread of his father who bossed him" (66). The struggle she endures in pursuit of a college degree in order to fulfill her aspirations of becoming a teacher is a testament to her character and spirit. Even though she is...
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