Literature Study GuidesBread GiversBook 1 Chapter 8 Summary

Bread Givers | Study Guide

Anzia Yezierska

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Bread Givers | Book 1, Chapter 8 : Hester Street (The Hard Heart) | Summary



Sara Smolinsky's mother bargains and borrows to stock the empty store and try to make their situation work, but no customers come in. Sara hates the empty store and longs to return to the bustle of New York and her job there. Shenah Smolinsky and Sara are arguing about Reb Smolinsky when a customer comes in. He asks for a list of things, most of which they don't have in stock, so he gets frustrated and leaves. A woman comes in with bad products from the previous store owner's sale, and afraid of conflict, Sara's mother reimburses her. Reb Smolinsky returns, and the three of them get into a fight. Sara, finally pushed to boiling, yells at her father and leaves the store to return to New York on her own.


The "hard heart" of the name of the chapter comes from Sara's father's label for Sara. She finally begins to speak out about and against her father, asking her mother how she could "marry such a crazy lunatic." Her mother scolds her and yet a few scenes later, she calls Reb Smolinsky a lunatic herself. The tension between Sara and her mother, and in the air of the store generally, helps this chapter ramp up to the big plot development of Sara finally leaving home.

Reb Smolinsky demonstrates, throughout this chapter, how incapable his he is of functioning in modern American life. His wife and daughter try to salvage his disastrous purchase of the store, but upon his return Reb Smolinsky proceeds to bungle or undo every small advance they have made in his absence. Sara doesn't yet see her father as a man of the Old World who cannot understand how to function in the new, but instead sees only his incompetence, his misogyny, and his need to place all of the work and blame on the women of his family.

All of this leads Sara to suddenly understand that no matter how much work she and her mother do, or how successful they might be able to make the store, her father will always undo their work and then blame them for it. This understanding is finally the last straw for Sara, and she leaves the house. Shenah reveals, for a moment, a strong sense of empathy for her daughter as she secretly gives her all of the rent money. In a way it seems Shenah is trying to give her daughter a chance at a better life than the rest of the family has had. While she is also a woman of the Old World, Shenah understands what Sara faces as a woman in their community, and wants her daughter to find happiness.

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