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Literature Study GuidesBread GiversBook 3 Chapter 20 Summary

Bread Givers | Study Guide

Anzia Yezierska

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Bread Givers | Book 3, Chapter 20 : The New World (Hugo Seelig) | Summary



Sara Smolinsky begins teaching and the glamor begins to wear off. She realizes that like most things in life, being a schoolteacher also has elements of drudgery. However, she notices the principal of the school has kept "that flame" of passion for teaching, and this inspires her. During a lesson where she tries to correct the children's pronunciation, she is embarrassed to find herself slipping back into the same old way of talking as the children speak and is corrected by the principal, Hugo Seelig. Sara finds him attractive and kind, and when he asks her to come to his office after class, she is worried she has done something wrong. She comes to his office to find him holding a letter from her stepmother accusing Sara of having bad character and letting them starve. Sara cries out that the accusations are false and flees the office in shame and despair. The next day, however, Mr. Seelig compliments her teaching and walks her home.

As they walk a little boy runs into the street and they both narrowly pull him out of danger. Afterward they discover they are holding each other's hand for comfort. They return to Sara's apartment for tea, and Mr. Seelig loves how open and clean it is and seems to understand Sara's need for those things. They discover they are both originally from neighboring villages in Poland. When Mr. Seelig leaves, he promises they are friends and will see one another again.


There is situational irony in the fact that Sara's stepmother's letter does exactly the opposite of what she intends it to do. Reb Smolinsky's new wife sends a letter to Sara's school condemning her out of selfish anger and frustration. Her hope is to ruin her work or get her fired, or to force Sara to help her out. Instead, it ironically brings Sara and the principal closer. Hugo Seelig receives the letter, and with it, insight into Sara's family situation and background, which he can relate to. This letter allows the two to become closer and does not end up endangering Sara's position as a teacher at all.

Also, Sara is finally able to connect with a man in a positive way and has her first truly positive romantic interaction. Hugo Seelig is the ideal match for Sara's character. He shares her passion for teaching and can understand her feelings about her work. Additionally, he is also an immigrant and comes from a village near hers in Poland, so he understands something of what she went through growing up, unlike the men she was around in college. Conversely, unlike the men she grew up around who are from the Old World, Hugo doesn't view her as a piece of property or seem too concerned about money or material things. Hugo is a sort of bridge between Sara's old life and family's traditional ways and the new American self she is trying to create. Hugo is an older Jewish-American man who has successfully pursued an education and made a career for himself in contemporary American society. This is attractive to Sara because he represents something she strives for herself and also because of her desire to have a meaningful connection with older men as a result of her relationship with her father.

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