Literature Study GuidesBread GiversBook 2 Chapter 16 Summary

Bread Givers | Study Guide

Anzia Yezierska

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Bread Givers | Book 2, Chapter 16 : Between Two Worlds (College) | Summary



Sara Smolinsky packs up her things and heads for college. She arrives in a small town to find a completely different environment than the one she came from. She is fascinated by how quiet and pretty the town is. She notices how young, beautifully dressed, and carefree the other college students seem. Sara hopes to become friends with the students, but while not cruel, they also seem uninterested in her. After the first day of classes she gets a job at a local laundry as an ironer. When she returns to her room she finds a note telling her she failed to report to her physical education class. She attends physical education class for a few days before getting fed up and smashing a hurdle, and she is sent to the dean's office as a result. She explains her situation to the dean and he excuses her from attending the class.

Hungry for friendship and the fun the other students seem to be having, Sara buys a ticket to one of the freshman dances. But no one asks her to dance, and she eventually leaves from embarrassment. Once outside, she realizes that she must go through college alone too and continue to focus on her studies. Sara saves up and buys things to help her appearance fit in over the semester, but then fails geometry as a result of working at the laundry too much. The next term she falls in love with her psychology class, and then develops a crush on the teacher as well. She takes a room in the same boarding house he lives in, but this makes him uncomfortable. He finally communicates this to Sara, and she is hurt and extremely humiliated. As her time at college wears on, Sara befriends some of the older professors and becomes close with the dean, who continues to encourage her.

In her senior year Sara enters an essay competition on the topic of "What the College Has Done for Me," with a prize of $1,000. On the day of graduation she is announced as the winner. Sara leaves college triumphant and successful.


Sara's experience at college is at once completely different from and quite similar to her night school experience. In many ways her social life at the university is much the same as it was in night school back in New York. While her classmates don't seem to think of her as a know-it-all, neither do they seem remotely interested in befriending her. She is again an outsider in a community that seems to have something bonding them together beyond Sara's comprehension. Sara tries to reach out to a few of them, and upon getting no particularly warm responses, gives up quickly. She is used to pursuing her goals in loneliness, without support from those around her. Her inexperience with making or having friends and her pride are perhaps her main blocks to connecting with her classmates. This and the difference in class and background between her and the other students make her very isolated.

Sara also experiences her third crush on a man while at school. Like many youthful crushes, and like her experience with Morris Lipkin, Sara ends up feeling rejected and humiliated. However, Sara's own actions reveal her naivety and inexperience. When she finds the psychology teacher's address and moves into the same boarding house he lives in, she crosses a boundary of privacy she seems totally unaware of. The results are rejection and embarrassment.

The bulk of the chapter describes Sara's entry to college and the difficulty of her first year. After this, the chapter moves quickly through time to Sara's graduation and barely touches on anything that happens in the years between. Sara has a few realizations about her own upbringing and experiences, facilitated by her spending time with some of the older professors and the dean, who seem to accept her for who she is. She realizes she intimidates some of the younger men. Sara is worldlier and more experienced in some of life's harsh realities than any of her wealthier classmates. But she seems simultaneously much more innocent and inexperienced than they, as she has never had a real romantic relationship nor had any friendships to teach her how to connect with others. Her attraction to older and more experienced men seems to be a part of the failed relationship and communication with her father, transformed by her into an American variation in which she can play a far more equal part and have the voice her father's religious zealotry ruled out. She becomes a great admirer of American egalitarianism and democracy, embodied often in a learned older man. The fact that Sara never finds a female role model, whose story might have been similar to Sara's own, is possibly connected to Sara's inability to connect with other women and her frustrating relationship with her father, whose approval and conversation she wants.

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