Literature Study GuidesBread GiversBook 1 Chapter 5 Summary

Bread Givers | Study Guide

Anzia Yezierska

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Bread Givers | Book 1, Chapter 5 : Hester Street (Morris Lipkin Writes Poetry) | Summary



Fania Smolinsky receives a letter from a poet and writer named Morris Lipkin. Her family opens it and gives her a hard time about being interested in a penniless poet. Reb Smolinsky tells everyone a fairy tale with a moral about not living in a dreamland. He berates Fania about wanting a poet for a husband. Sara talks back to her father, quoting his own earlier lecture about the happiness of those in poverty, and her father yells at her to "hold [her] mouth." When Shenah Smolinsky takes the girls' side as well, claiming that Reb Smolinsky is driving all the young men away, Reb Smolinsky decides to become matchmaker and find his daughters husbands.

Morris comes to visit Fania, but Reb Smolinsky has also invited a gaudy rich-seeming man named Moe Mirsky for dinner that night. Reb Smolinsky refuses to acknowledge Morris, who becomes mortified and leaves the house. Moe Mirsky brags about his life and his wealth. After he leaves, Fania and Reb Smolinsky fight over Fania's desire to marry Morris. Fania refuses to go out with Moe, so Mashah agrees to go to Coney Island with him. Moe courts Mashah with diamonds, and Reb Smolinsky brings a businessman named Abe Schmukler from Los Angeles to meet Fania. Abe begins to buy Fania things and take her to the theater. Bessie is jealous, but Fania admits that she still loves Morris and doesn't love Abe, though she will do anything to get out of their house and away from their father.

Meanwhile, the community sees the type of men coming around to the Smolinsky house and thinks that they are blessed. Fania and Mashah get married, but it comes out that both men were not who they claimed to be. Moe owned no diamonds and was only a sales clerk at a jewelry store, and he was fired for lending the diamonds to Mashah. Abe turns out to be a gambler who leaves Fania alone all the time. Sara finds love letters from Morris to Fania and decides that she herself is in love with Morris. When she tells Morris, he calls her a "silly little kid" and totally crushes her hopes.


A lot of critical movement happens in this chapter. The resistance and chastising of Reb Smolinsky by his wife and daughters backfires on them, and he takes it upon himself to become a matchmaker for his daughters so that they won't bring home any more men he deems unsuitable. This results in his bringing home two men who are more or less con artists, illustrating the reb's lack of ability to judge other people's actual characters. This also indicates a true lack of regard for what happens to his daughters, because he does not take the time to vet the men who he brings into the household, but rather lets himself be taken in by their apparent access to money.

After it comes out—what kind of men he has married his daughters to—Reb Smolinsky still does not admit any wrongdoing. On the contrary, he blames his daughters for the kind of men they married, putting it on their shoulders to have done more research on their husbands before agreeing to marriage. Reb Smolinsky's inability to admit any fault in his own judgment emphasizes an important part of his character and his belief structure. To admit that he chose wrongly for his daughters would mean admitting to the women of his household that he was wrong, which is unimaginable for Reb Smolinsky. Fania even begs to come home, but her father won't let her come back because he thinks people will assume she was cast out. Reb Smolinsky demonstrates a decidedly unholy side in his value of other people's opinions over the health and happiness of his daughters.

Sara, who is barely entering womanhood, experiences her first crush and disappointment as well. Sara's only experience with men and romance so far is entirely negative. She sees what marrying her father has done to her mother, and she sees how her sisters' love interests and husbands lie or treat them badly. Sara's youthful perception of marriage and the male treatment of women solidifies her resolve to become independent and avoid the suffering she sees the women around her experiencing. She has no positive role models for marriage, love, or even men generally. The men of the Old World, who share religious and cultural beliefs with Sara's father, are all repulsive to Sara because she has no desire to fill the role expected of her in their worldview. Sara comes to understand that her father cares primarily about image and money, and that this is common to her sisters' husbands as well. Sara is beginning to rebel, at least internally, against the old ways of her father, an important first step in her journey to find her way between the new and old cultures.

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