This post has been written by Irma Crnkic, a Bosnian student of English literature.
After reading Breadgivers by Anzia Yezierska nothing seems impossible anymore, or at least, not as difficult as it was at first.
Sara Smolinsky is the brave protagonist in this partly autobiographical story. Through Sara, the author, another survivor from the New York suburbs, voices all injustices and obstacles women had to face. The New York is dreary and drab. She realizes at a very young age that life is not peachy. What should have been a breezy childhood abruptly turns into bare survival: “Nothing was before me but the hunger in our house, and no bread for the next meal if I didn’t sell the herring.” Her will and strong vision carry her through tough times into a colorful future.
As she grows up, Sara faces cruelty and inferiority in both family and society. She is from an orthodox Jewish family, one of five daughters of a submissive mother and a clerical, disillusioned father who scorns her unique potentials and frequently tells her that all she is destined to be is a mother, an obedient spouse and daughter. She detests constantly being fed the idea that a woman is petty without a man, which her derives from the Torah: ”Only if they cooked for the men, and washed for the men, and didn’t nag or curse the men out of their homes; only if they let the men study the Torah in peace, then, maybe, they could push themselves into Heaven with the men, to wait on them there.” Sara tries to educate herself, even though it means going against everything her father believes in.
The vivid images of life’s cruelty painted by a young girl are heartbreaking. Poverty, dirt and stench of New York slums become real like comfort, purity and pleasant scents of our own homes. We share Sara’s distrust and disappointment in her father as he takes the best of the meal without even considering offering some to his daughters: “We sat down to the table. With watering mouths and glistening eyes we watched Mother skimming off every bit of fat from the top soup into Father’s big plate, leaving for us only the thin, watery part.”
Sara proves to have a will strong enough to claim a big chunk of her own life: “Wild with all that was choked in me since I was born, my eyes burned into my father’s eyes. ‘My will is as strong as yours. I’m going to live my own life. Nobody can stop me.’”
Using everyday, yet powerful language, the author presents a rigid world through the eyes of a young girl. She is stubborn which keeps her from withering like her sisters. Sara goes on bravely and fights for her future, refusing to be put down or devaluated. The vigor of this book lies in the permeating hopefulness of the world despite everything. That’s what makes it special and absolutely worth reading.
Sara’s struggle is a metaphor for those who want to rise above their fears and seize the day. She gives up so much for the passion to learn, to achieve more and to follow her dreams when everyone has turned his or her back on her. She perseveres. Sara plots her own path rather than follow the road less travelled – an admirable quality, an essence that makes this story so great.
This book is not about right or wrong, nor black or white, because life itself is not that clear-cut. People are never completely happy, nor miserable. The experience of pain enables one to achieve and appreciate happiness.