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Book Title: Bread Givers|
The author of the book: Anzia Yezierska
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Reader ratings: 7.8
Edition: Persea Books
Date of issue: March 31st 1979
ISBN 13: 9780892550142
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 6.66 MB
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A gem in so many dimensions: King Lear with an extra daughter, a proto-feminist masterpiece, a profoundly moving documentary about the true cost of immigrant-assimilation, a charming remembrance of Yiddish-American dialect. It reads as fresh and possibly as scandalously as it did in 1925.
Most surprisingly, however, among its many surprises the book is also a charter for men's liberation long before the idea became a ‘thing’ in today's culture. Bread givers are husbands. Bread giving is what men not only do, it is their primary quality as human beings. It is what they should be valued for in the American culture as seen so accurately by those entering the culture from abroad. The way for a woman to get on is by identifying and capturing a reliable bread giver. The fact that this tactic most often ends in personal tragedy is not so much the fault of the (patently faulty) men involved but of the culture which seems to demand that this is their primary role.
Those most prone to the cultural myth of bread giving are of course men themselves, especially men steeped in the patriarchal culture of the Polish shtetl. And most particularly that man who dominates the lives of all females in his orbit, the rabbi-like paterfamilias of the piece, who has only studied Torah for his entire life and who has no skills with which to give any bread to anyone in his new world. The contradiction is obvious to everyone but himself so he ends up participating in the same tragedy which he has inflicted on his daughters by, as a widower, marrying a woman who expects nothing but … a bread giver.
American culture hasn’t changed much in the last 90 years or so, except to become a fair bit less direct in its expectations around marriage. Women are still considered second-class members of the human race by a large portion of the population, largely with biblical witness for support. Men are still considered for their economic achievement or their potential for achievement as ‘husband material’. The idea that a man could possibly waste his life in spiritual activity which, somehow, his family should fund is incomprehensible except in those orthodox Jewish communities that still seek to emulate the shtetl in America. The fact that Yezierska never has her protagonist, Sara, condemn this central aspiration/need/calling of her father is perhaps the most scandalous theme of the book to modern sensibilities, just as it undoubtedly was in 1925.
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Read information about the authorDate of Birth: 1885
Date of Death: 1970
Anzia Yezierska, the youngest of nine children, was born into poverty circa 1885 in Russian Poland. Her family immigrated to the Lower East Side of Manhattan around 1892. Immigration officials used the oldest child's name, Mayer, as the last name of the family and switched Anzia's name to Harriet, and so she became Hattie Mayer. After attending elementary school in the United States for only two years, Yezierska started working by selling homemade paper bags, sewing buttons, and rolling cigars. Later she worked in sweatshops and laundries. Yezierska quarreled often with her father, who devoted all of his time to Talmudic study and traditional ideas. Largely due to this, she left home in 1899 and rented a room at the Clara de Hisch Home for Working Girls.
Yezierska won a scholarship to Teacher's College, part of Columbia University in 1901. During college, she had to work in a laundry to pay for expenses not covered in the scholarship. She had little interest in domestic studies, for which her scholarship was granted, and she felt inferior to the American students at the school. She graduated in 1905 as a cooking teacher, but she did not remain a teacher for long because she disliked it intensely.
Yezierska married Jacob Gordon, but she left him the day after the ceremony. The marriage was annulled after six months, because she had refused to consummate it. Later that year she married Arnold Levitas, but the two quarreled often over money and housework. Levitas wanted Yezierska to play the role of the traditional wife, but Yezierska rejected being inferior to her husband. She became pregnant in 1912 and went to live with her sister on the West Coast, where she came to think of herself as a spokesperson for Jewish immigrants. Although she took a job as a social worker for Hebrew Charities in San Francisco, Yezierska was unable to support her daughter as a single mother and was forced to send her to live with her father.
She did not begin creative writing until 1913, when she was about 28, but she published her first story two years later in Forum Magazine. Yezierska returned to the east in 1917 but could only find part-time teaching jobs.
Fearing that she was a victim of class prejudice, she went to John Dewey, the dean of Teacher's College, for help. He encouraged her to write, allowing her to attend his graduate seminar and hiring her as a translator for a project. There was romantic interest between the two, which he ended by taking a three year lecture tour in the Far East. Characters like Dewey appear in many pieces of Yezierska's writing.
Yezierska's story, "The Fat of the Land," was called the best story of 1919 by Edward O'Brien. Hollywood offered $10,000 for the movie rights to the film, and Yezierska went to California, but she refused to sign the three year contract. A fellowship at the University of Wisconsin in 1929 allowed her to continue writing. Returning to New York, Yezierska became impoverished once again during the depression, and so she was able to join the New York Work Projects Administration Writers Project. In addition to short stories and novels, Yezierska wrote book reviews for the New York Times. She wrote her autobiography in 1950 and died forgotten in 1970.
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