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Bread Givers | Study Guide

Anzia Yezierska

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Bread Givers | Motifs



Money is one of the most significant motifs recurring throughout Sara Smolinsky's story. It represents power and freedom, but also corruption and greed. Sara Smolinsky watches her father trade away her sisters for money. Bessie Smolinsky is flat-out sold to Zalmon the fish peddler for $500. Afterward, Sara watches the misery her sisters experience in their new lives, whether they have money or not. Fania Smolinsky's gambler husband has a fine house and buys her jewelry and clothes in order to show her off, but he leaves Fania alone and she wastes away from loneliness. Sara realizes that this kind of money brings only misery and cannot fill the void left by lack of companionship or family.

However, from a young age Sara also gets a taste of the freedom and confidence money can provide. When she sells herring for the first time at age 10 and makes a little money, she is empowered by the feeling of adding to her family's income. When her family takes in boarders and no longer has to struggle as much to bring in food or pay the bills, she sees how money can transform all the relationships within the family, which goes from a household full of anxiety and fighting to one where everyone is relatively content and gets along. Later, as a young woman, Sara lets herself be momentarily entranced by the glamor of Max Goldstein and his ability to take her to nice restaurants and clubs. She quickly realizes, though, his kind of attitude toward money and wealth is a superficial one, and she could not be happy with someone so wrapped up in their own money and importance. In the end Sara is able to find a sort of balance, having enough money to live in a clean, comfortable way without needing actual wealth or glamorous surroundings to enjoy peace and happiness.

Bread Givers

The "bread givers" of this novel are the providers. But the term is usually used with verbal irony by the narrator because while men are typically expected to be the bread givers, the weight of all the providing and family care seems to fall on the wives and daughters of the household. Sara Smolinsky watches as her sisters transferred from their father, for whom they were the bread givers, to husbands who expect them to slave away as mothers and wage earners, or who utterly neglect them in the process of breadwinning. Sara sees this as an outdated representation of the male provider, and vows to become her own bread giver instead of being supported by a man or being forced to support him and a family.

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