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Literature Study GuidesBread GiversBook 1 Chapter 9 Summary

Bread Givers | Study Guide

Anzia Yezierska

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Bread Givers | Book 1, Chapter 9 : Hester Street (Bread Givers) | Summary



Not knowing where else to go upon her return to New York, Sara Smolinsky heads straight for Zalmon and Bessie's fish shop. Bessie convinces Zalmon to let Sara stay the night, and they talk after he has gone to sleep. They finally both fall asleep on the kitchen floor, to be awakened by five screaming boys in the morning. Zalmon complains about Sara's presence being a bad influence on his own daughter. Sara leaves and goes to Mashah's house, where she finds Mashah pleading with the milkman to give her milk despite being unable to pay the bill. Mashah explains that Moe Mirsky spends all his income and leaves none for her. Despite this, Sara notices that Mashah has done her best to make the place clean and beautiful. Mashah is worn out and her beauty is gone from working and having two babies, and from the shame of not being able to pay her bills. When Moe comes home he criticizes and belittles her for these things. Sara loses her temper and calls Moe out for being a cheapskate and a hypocrite, and for mistreating Mashah. They fight, and Sara leaves the house.


This is the title chapter of the book, finally bringing some light to the term "bread givers." The term seems to refer generally to providers, but more specifically to the men upon whom her sisters are forced to rely. The term is used with extreme verbal irony, as none of these men—not their father, not their husbands—provide for the women at all. The men provide first for themselves, and then use the girls as workhorses to bring in more money, help run their business, or keep their home and raise children with nothing. All of the women express a sense of bitterness about the idea of the women having to have total dependence on a male provider, and as Sara sees it, the concept is basically a myth. All of the girls, herself included, work harder than any of the men who are supposedly providing for them. In fact, it is clear that the girls could live happier lives and make better livings without any of the confused and duplicitous men in their lives.

Upon hearing Sara's story, Bessie admits that she wishes she had had Sara's courage. It is implied that Mashah probably feels the same. Both women married men who are relatively similar to their father. The men work them to the bone and then blame the women for no longer being beautiful. Sara is horrified by this hypocrisy and tries to defend her sisters, but it seems too late for them.

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