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Bread Givers | Study Guide

Anzia Yezierska

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Bread Givers | Quotes


Although she lived in the same dirt and trouble with us, nothing ever bothered her.

Sara Smolinsky, Book 1, Chapter 1

Sara Smolinsky is describing Mashah Smolinsky, who seems somehow apart from the rest of the family. Mashah makes a point to calmly purchase extra things to care for her hygiene and appearance, and meticulously keeps her things neat and in good condition despite the poverty they live in.

This provides an important insight into Mashah's character. She has hope for a better life where she can make the things around her beautiful, because this is something that she places value in. Later, Sara takes this quality of Mashah's to heart when she sets up her own apartment, remembering how Mashah worked to make the things around her beautiful. While most of her family take this as a sign of Mashah's self-centeredness, it is in fact Mashah's survival mechanism amidst the squalor and chaos in which she lives.


In America, rich people can only buy, and buy things made by machines.

Shenah Smolinsky, Book 1, Chapter 2

Shenah Smolinsky responds to a comment about rich people being able to buy whatever they want on Fifth Avenue. She insists there is a limit to what they can buy because they only have access to things made with machines, and not truly beautiful handmade things. Shenah reminisces about the beautiful one-of-a-kind things she left in Poland because Reb Smolinsky would not let her bring anything to America.

But Shenah makes the important observation that there is value in things that are made with hands and with love or unique skill. Shenah and the girls make many of the things they have, those that aren't handed down in the family. Unlike Reb Smolinsky, Shenah sees beyond the monetary value of things and does not place high importance on being rich, but values traditions and craftsmanship that are missing from the "New World."


Something deep down in her had broken and it would never again be fixed.

Sara Smolinsky, Book 1, Chapter 4

After Jacob Novak stops seeing her or writing her, Mashah becomes despondent and then heartbroken. She realizes his father has made him give her up, and she is deeply disappointed in his weakness.

Sara sees that both her mother and sisters choose their filial, or family, duty over their own personal hopes and desires, and the result is that they are miserable and discontented. Sara makes a different choice and finds happiness. Through this contrast, the author is illustrating that women have a duty to themselves too, to carve out their own lives and find their own happiness.


Each time he killed the heart from ... his children, [his preaching] grew louder.

Sara Smolinsky, Book 1, Chapter 4

Sara Smolinsky is describing Reb Smolinsky, her father, after he has chased away the men her sisters Fania Smolinsky and Mashah Smolisnky liked and forced men on them they didn't care for. Fania and Mashah become brokenhearted and give into the marriages, which only gives fuel to their father's preaching. It is as if Reb Smolinsky feeds on the misery of the sisters as they each, in turn, do their duty to the family and obey him. Reb Smolinsky condemns his daughters, one after the other, to live a loveless existence of drudgery by marrying them off for the sake of showing everyone that he can.


Don't forget ... you are already six months older—six months less beautiful—less desirable.

Reb Smolinsky, Book 1, Chapter 5

Fania Smolinsky writes home after marrying Abe Schmukler and moving to Los Angeles with him, begging to return home. Reb Smolinsky responds by writing a letter that warns her she had better not disgrace herself and her family. He reminds her that it would be hard to get another husband, and she should have researched what kind of man her husband was before she agreed to marry him. Reb Smolinsky sees his daughters as property to sell off, and he assesses them in the practical way someone might assess a piece of land or livestock. He reveals that he views youth and beauty as the two most important characteristics that make a woman marriageable.


This is America, where children are people.

Sara Smolinsky, Book 1, Chapter 8

Sara is rejecting her father's tyranny and demands. She has reached her limit and needs to leave the house. She realizes he doesn't see her has a human being but as a child and a possession of his that should do whatever he wills. The quotation also juxtaposes the idea of adults and children, which are somehow reversed in a new country where the old ways, such Reb Smolinsky's viewpoint of children—are under great challenge.


The Old World had struck its last on me.

Sara Smolinsky, Book 1, Chapter 8

At the end of an argument, Reb Smolinsky strikes Sara, and she leaves the house for good. The "Old World" is something she sees as patriarchal, outdated, and tyrannical, and she leaves to find her independence as an "Americanized" young woman.


By ... force of ... will I could reason myself out of the dirt and noise.

Sara Smolinsky, Book 2, Chapter 11

Sara's strong nature is able to block out all the distractions to her studying except for hunger. She can close hear ears and eyes to the conditions around her, but she cannot will away her hunger.


I don't have to share it with anyone ... That's what made it so hateful.

Sara Smolinsky, Book 2, Chapter 12

Sara is depressed and making a pot of oatmeal. She realizes that eating all alone, even eating one's fill, is more disheartening than eating with family from one pot. This shows the inconsistency in Sara's nature, since she desires independence and self-sufficiency but never fully separates herself from her need for a nourishing type of male relationship.


I was only 23 and I dressed myself like an old lady in mourning.

Sara Smolinsky, Book 2, Chapter 13

Sara is realizing she isn't like the other girls with whom she works. She looks in the mirror and sees her face without any life or color and her black clothing, and she realizes she has never spent any time thinking about herself as a young woman or about her appearance. Paradoxically, she notes that her sisters also look aged and broken from their marriages, and though she has chosen a different path she finds herself with a similar look. Ultimately, perhaps, it is because that "broken" and "aged" look comes not from being poor or tired or working hard, but from a lack of love and affection in Sara's and her sisters' lives. Sara is on a mission to set herself up as independent, but conflictingly still longs for love and companionship.


If it will not kill you, it will be the making of you.

Sara Smolinsky, Book 2, Chapter 14

Sara, in a period of intense loneliness and isolation, would say this line to her loneliness, in an attempt to bear it. She hopes her suffering will pay off and her reward will be the success of her dreams.


The man seemed to turn into a talking roll of dollar bills ... before my eyes.

Sara Smolinsky, Book 2, Chapter 14

Despite liking Max Goldstein at first and enjoying going on dates with a man for the first time, at some point Sara realizes he is only concerned with money. Max brags and talks endlessly about money and his business, and Sara realizes there is no depth to him.


Just as I looked to Father for love, he rose up to stone me.

Sara Smolinsky, Book 2, Chapter 15

After Sara rejects Max, she is longing to commiserate with her father, whom she thinks will understand why she did it. Instead her father comes to her door and berates her for not marrying someone he sees as wealthy and a good connection. Sara longs for her father to understand and accept her for who she is, a desire that fuels her future relationships with the older, educated men in her life.


I have to live and die by what's in me.

Sara Smolinsky, Book 2, Chapter 15

After her father's endless preaching about her not marrying Max, Sara responds to her father with this line. She tells him his preaching is useless and won't change anything. She is desperate for independence but is living in a family system that does not allow any type of freedom or individualism for its women. Because of his traditional background, Sara's father cannot see her as an individual with desires and needs that are legitimate or valuable. Yet this is exactly the recognition and validation that Sara most needs.


In a world where all is changed, he alone remained unchanged.

Sara Smolinsky, Book 3, Chapter 21

In the end Sara looks at her father with new eyes. She realizes he is sad and alone in a world he doesn't understand. She sees that the world is changing quickly around Reb Smolinsky, and he is sticking fast to his old traditions in a desperate bid for familiarity and orientation in the world.

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