Literature Study GuidesBread GiversBook 1 Chapter 7 Summary

Bread Givers | Study Guide

Anzia Yezierska

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Bread Givers | Book 1, Chapter 7 : Hester Street (Father Becomes a Business Man in America) | Summary

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Summary

Reb Smolinsky decides to start a business with the $500 he got from Zalmon the fish peddler in exchange for Bessie Smolinsky. His wife urges him to put the money in the bank while he looks for a business to buy, but he ignores her. He goes out to look for something to buy and promises to phone Shenah Smolinsky when he finds something. He calls that evening to have her come down to the supermarket he has just purchased in Elizabeth, New Jersey, complete with all its stock. After a very busy first day in the store when Sara Smolinsky accidentally knocks a display of oatmeal boxes down, they realize that the boxes are empty. This leads to the realization that most of the stock in the store is fake, and that they've been swindled. A man who used to be a clerk at the store comes in and confirms he helped the owner con them. Shenah and Reb Smolinsky fight and shout at one another until he finally falls asleep.

Analysis

Sara's father takes the money for which he sold Bessie into servitude to Zalmon and hopes to buy himself a business. This exchange of his own daughter for a large sum of money again indicates Reb Smolinsky's character. Having finally had to step away from his constant study of holy texts because of the family's dire financial situation, Reb Smolinsky chooses to sell one of his daughters rather than get a job. Reb Smolinsky is looking for a get-rich-quick scheme, hoping he will fix his financial troubles and be able to go back to doing nothing but reading his books. The same way he impulsively and foolishly grabbed husbands for his daughters, he buys a store without taking any time to think it over or investigate what he is buying. The decisions Reb Smolinsky has already made do not foretell a good ending to this particular scheme. Shenah understands her husband's character, and this is why she begs him to take her with him to look at places. However, Reb Smolinsky is too proud and has too little belief in women's abilities to listen to her. This turns out to be a fatal mistake. As is consistent to Reb Smolinsky's character in previous situations, he blames the swindle on everyone but himself. He shows himself over and over again to be a man who cannot take responsibility for his own mistakes, from his misperception of America that brought the family to New York to his daughters' marriages. The chapter clearly shows how unsuited the studious rabbi is to cope with modern life, ensuring that for the rest of the story he will continue to endure failure and disillusionment with everything except his Orthodox faith.

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