Literature Study GuidesBread GiversBook 3 Chapter 21 Summary

Bread Givers | Study Guide

Anzia Yezierska

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Bread Givers | Book 3, Chapter 21 : The New World (Man Born of Woman) | Summary

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Summary

Despite the joy Sara Smolinsky feels in her new life, she also experiences guilt at being unable to share her happiness with the poor struggling people around her. She even feels sympathy for her stepmother and father, who are suffering. Hugo Seelig calls to ask her to join him for dinner after a meeting, and she rushes out to meet him. In her hurry she bumps into an old man selling chewing gum and causes him to spill his goods. She stops to help him pick everything up and realizes that the old man is her father. He jeers at her when he recognizes her and berates her for leaving him to his fate. She feels bad for him, old and shivering, and brings him back to his house. She puts him into bed, and he becomes delirious with fever. His wife returns and is hostile toward Sara, accusing her of waiting to return until her father is dying.

Sara returns after school the next day to find her father afraid to take medicine from his wife, so she nurses him. She dozes, only to awaken to her father's wife trying to get information from her sick father about his money and his life insurance. This frightens Sara, and she takes a leave of absence from school so she won't have to leave her father alone with his wife anymore. He gradually gets well and an affection develops between them. Sara and her sisters begin giving their father's wife a little money, and she becomes a nicer person to everyone. Finally Sara brings Hugo Seelig to meet her father, and they take to each other quickly. Hugo Seelig asks Sara's father to teach him Hebrew, and her father is excited and flattered. Sara realizes her father must come and live with her and Hugo, and so she invites him and he begrudgingly accepts.

Analysis

This final chapter of Bread Givers focuses on Sara's relationships with two men: her father and her new sweetheart. In many ways this chapter brings Sara's story full circle. She spent many years of her life trying to pull away from her father and his tyrannical ways. Multiple times a desire to be close to him ignites in her heart, only to have him snuff it out with his selfishness and his belief that women aren't really people the way men are. But after Sara's mother's death, and upon seeing her father as an old man selling gum, Sara begins to realize that though she may not agree with her father she does have some feelings for him. She begins to see him as a frail old man who is struggling to hold onto his traditions in an unfamiliar world. This understanding of her father explains his rejection of anything "American." America, in the end, is a place that doesn't adhere to his beliefs or traditions and has let him down by not being the promised land he thought it was. Sara describes Reb Smolinsky as being unchanged "in a world where all is changed." Because she has experienced acute loneliness herself, she is able to recognize that same feeling in her father since she too has a rigid nature.

Sara also finds herself surrounded by men in the end of the story, an interesting twist considering her strong desire and fight for independence. Sara's relationship with men throughout her story is a complex one. She oscillates between wanting their attention and approval and rejecting their attentions out of a desire for independence and a break from the old traditions. At times she longs for her father's conversation and acceptance, and at others she is repulsed by him. Hugo Seelig, by contrast, represents a mixture of the familiar and the new and exciting. He is a man of the Old World who, like Sara, has thrown off the old traditions and made himself into a modern American man. However, he has enough interest and respect in the traditions of his homeland that he is able to connect with Sara's father. Hugo manages to keep a balance of one foot in both worlds, something which Sara has spent much of her life trying to reconcile for herself, and so she sees Hugo as a role model as well as a lover.

Sara's offer to her father to come live with her and Hugo is painful for her to make. After so much time working to live away from her father, she must again share a roof with him. However, because the house is hers and Hugo's, the power dynamics have distinctly changed. Her father is no longer in charge. Despite the fact that he relied on Sara and her sisters to support him for so many years, he was always the head of the household. Now, as an old man, he is again supported by Sara, but this time on her terms. Things are very different but the essential strength of the family endures in some way.

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