Literature Study GuidesBread GiversBook 1 Chapter 2 Summary

Bread Givers | Study Guide

Anzia Yezierska

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Bread Givers | Book 1, Chapter 2 : Hester Street (The Speaking Mouth of the Block) | Summary

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Summary

Sara Smolinsky recounts her father's trial for assaulting the landlady. The judge lets him go because the lawyer makes a case that he is a holy man of learning and would never hurt anyone. There is a big celebration on the block when Reb Smolinsky is released, and the story of him hitting the landlady becomes a neighborhood legend.

This whole incident leads to the Smolinskys becoming well known in the neighborhood, and they are soon able to secure three boarders in their one room. This significantly improves their living situation. They are able to fix up the house slightly and get enough dishes for everyone, and have more food on the table as well. Everyone's temperaments improve as a result, and Shenah Smolinsky tells stories of her life before coming to America.

Analysis

The community generally supports Reb Smolinsky's behavior toward the landlady. Many people go further than support and actually laud him for his behavior. This seems to be a common response mostly from other people on the block who have also suffered from the rent collector. A sort of mob mentality forms as they celebrate Reb Smolinsky's return after his court appearance, and everyone praises his actions while denouncing the landlady and coming up with horrible punishments for her.

The only person who speaks up against Reb Smolinsky's behavior is Shprintzeh Gittel's "Americanized daughter," who insists that "a man shouldn't hit a lady." The narrator seems to emphasize the presence of this "Americanization" as explanation for the daughter's different and perhaps more civilized views of proper behavior at the time. The bookkeeper also tries to interject a dissenting opinion only to be talked over by the angry residents of the block. He attempts to explain that landlords have to pay taxes and can't control a rise in tax rates, but no one wants to hear this logic. The residents of the block are much happier to vent their anger and frustration in the direction of the landlady and landlords in general.

In this chapter a little more light is shed on Shenah Smolinsky and Reb Smolinsky's lives before coming to America, and their reasons for coming. When Shenah tells stories to her family about her attractiveness and social status before she was married, she reveals something of the family's situation before they came to America. Interestingly, her memories in this rare recounting of life in Poland seem somewhat rose-tinted, and she doesn't mention anything of the hardships faced by the community that made so many people emigrate. Instead, she romanticizes her life before America and blames her husband for their emigration to a situation that is isolated and full of poverty. Reb Smolinsky's perception of America as a land where there is an abundance of riches available to everyone shows how deeply he bought into the myth about the United States that was widely propagated among communities emigrating to New York.

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