Bread Givers Research Papers
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America is a nation built up by immigrants. The most dramatic wave came in the late 19th century and early part of the 20th century, as millions of Eastern and Southern Europeans flooded into America in search of a better life. Poles, Russians, Slovaks, Jews, Lithuanians, Greeks, Italians, and others filed through Ellis Island in New York Harbor, past the Statue of Liberty, and into Industrial America. Often, their transition into American society was a difficult one. They faced at least one, if not all, of the following:
Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers (1925) is the story of one immigrant family’s struggle in America.
Bread Givers and the Industrial Revolution
From the opening chapter, the reader is told that this is a family that must struggle to make ends meet in the new world. Economics is perhaps their primary concern. Sara, then ten years old, is peeling potatoes for dinner. Her older sister Bessie comes home, exhausted and frustrated because she has been unable to find work. The entire family is dependent upon the wages that Bessie can bring in. The alternative is being thrown out of their home by their landlord, something that has happened before to this family.
America was at the height of the Industrial Revolution during the time period of the novel. A massive labor pool was needed, but so many immigrants came into the country that jobs often became scarce. Bessie tells of a mad struggle of the crowd at a shop where “Girls Wanted” is advertised. Sara’s chores consist of going through the neighborhood ash cans and empty lots for scraps of coal and wood so that the family can have heat. She is embarrassed and ashamed to do this, feeling like a thief. Ultimately, their father’s solution to the family’s economic woes is to marry off his older daughters to unsavory men.
Bread Givers and Poverty
What is most striking about Sara’s story is that she makes a conscious effort to overcome the poverty of her family and the domination of her father. She decides to become a schoolteacher. She remembers a story from the Sunday paper of a girl not unlike herself: “A girl—slaving away in a shop. Her hair was already turning gray…. Then suddenly she began to study in the night school, then college. And worked and studied, on and on, till she became a teacher in the schools”. In this new desire to improve her life, Sara is both typical of many immigrants and different from first generation immigrants.