Literature Study GuidesBread GiversBook 1 Chapter 6 Summary

Bread Givers | Study Guide

Anzia Yezierska

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Bread Givers | Book 1, Chapter 6 : Hester Street (The Burden Bearer Changes Her Burden) | Summary



Sara Smolinsky begins working in a paper box factory, where she is paid by the piece. She makes better money than many of the other workers because she is fast and driven. Reb Smolinsky gives a tenth of everyone's wages to charity, even though Sara needs a winter coat, and the family needs other necessities. Reb Smolinsky's matchmaking reputation has spread around the neighborhood, and he begins a matchmaking business.

Zalmon the fish peddler comes to him looking for a wife and a mother for his kids as soon as his own wife dies. Reb Smolinsky sees an opportunity to marry off Bessie and make a profit in the process, so he offers her up in exchange for money from Zalmon. Bessie refuses to marry him and to come out and meet him when he comes courting. Eventually she feels sorry for his youngest boy, and this begins to soften her heart. After an episode where she calls the doctor because Zalmon's youngest becomes sick from eating bad food, she finally gives in and agrees to marry him.


From the beginning the "burden bearer" in the family has been Bessie. Bessie goes through a similar process to that of her two sisters. She is presented with a man that she doesn't want to marry, but she eventually folds under her father's pressure (and her pity for the man's children). Unlike her sisters, who don't love their husbands when they meet but also don't have particularly strong feelings one way or the other about them, Bessie loathes Zalmon from the moment he enters their house. Bessie's marriage is a marriage of the Old World if there ever was one, as Zalmon is 30 years older than she. Zalmon, like every other man Sara observes coming into their lives, flaunts promises of wealth everyone knows will become empty once the marriage takes place. Sara watches this whole thing materialize, internalizing the way men show off and flatter to get what they want and then do whatever they please once they are married.

Like Mashah, Bessie seems defeated from the rejection of her first suitor, whom she actually liked. It is this defeat that likely predisposes her to fold under her father's pressure to marry Zalmon, even though she cannot stand him. One by one, with Bessie as the last, Sara's sisters give in to their father's demands and suffer for it. Bessie goes "quietly from [their] house to Zalmon's," never experiencing even a moment of relief from being the burden bearer. The story clearly sympathizes with the role a first-born child has to play in a poor, struggling family situation.

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