Literature Study GuidesBread GiversBook 1 Chapter 3 Summary

Bread Givers | Study Guide

Anzia Yezierska

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Bread Givers | Book 1, Chapter 3 : Hester Street (The Burden Bearer) | Summary

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Summary

Though everyone had hoped one of the boarders might make a good match for Bessie Smolinsky, they all moon after Mashah Smolinsky instead. One day Bessie brings home a few things to spruce up the house that she's bought with her wages. The girls work to clean up the kitchen and make it more comfortable and presentable. After dinner Bessie gives Mashah money just to get her out of the house, and then she admits to Sara that she has a man coming over. Bessie borrows Mashah's one nice outfit, but it is much too small for her, and she tears it.

Berel Bernstein, Bessie's potential beau, comes over and begins to talk with Bessie's father. Her father seems unimpressed with the young man. Eventually they begin to argue because Reb Smolinksy wants Berel to pay him compensation for Bessie's lost wages. Berel leaves, angry, but returns the next day and assures Bessie that he still wants to marry her. Bessie tells him that she can't leave her father, and Berel replies that he'll find a different wife in that case. When Berel announces his engagement to another woman weeks later, Sara watches Bessie become depressed and forlorn. Infuriated at Berel, Sara goes to his engagement party and yells that he'll "eat dirt."

Analysis

The "burden bearer" from the title of the chapter refers to Bessie, to whom the major burdens of the household seem to fall. She is the eldest, so it is expected that she will give her wages to the family, help keep house, and be the first to marry. However, the family dynamic makes it difficult for Bessie to marry and leave the house. Berel Bernstein is her choice to marry, and so she brings him home to her family. She purposefully sends Mashah out (but none of the other sisters), which indicates that she is afraid that Berel will see Mashah and become more interested in her looks than in Bessie.

At first Berel seems like a good person, but Reb Smolinsky drives him to demonstrate a less charitable side of himself. He still wants Bessie though, and proposes that they work together instead of her working like a slave for her father. All of these interactions are presented through the filter of Sara's perception, so it is interesting that she perceives Berel, in the end, as not being a particularly good person. Sara watches as Berel proposes to Bessie in a very practical way, and then turn his back on her when she won't go against her family's wishes. He tells her that he'll find another, better bride, "not one to hang a whole beggar family on my neck"—a harsh, but not altogether untrue, assessment. The pathos of Bessie's situation is made abundantly clear as she carries so much responsibility and hopelessness as the first-born.

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