BlackOxford's Reviews > Bread Givers

Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska
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it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, jewish, american, history

Male Liberation

A gem in so many dimensions: King Lear with an extra daughter, a proto-feminist masterpiece, a profoundly moving documentary about the true cost of immigrant-assimilation, a charming remembrance of Yiddish-American dialect. It reads as fresh and possibly as scandalously as it did in 1925.

Most surprisingly, however, among its many surprises the book is also a charter for men's liberation long before the idea became a ‘thing’ in today's culture. Bread givers are husbands. Bread giving is what men not only do, it is their primary quality as human beings. It is what they should be valued for in the American culture as seen so accurately by those entering the culture from abroad. The way for a woman to get on is by identifying and capturing a reliable bread giver. The fact that this tactic most often ends in personal tragedy is not so much the fault of the (patently faulty) men involved but of the culture which seems to demand that this is their primary role.

Those most prone to the cultural myth of bread giving are of course men themselves, especially men steeped in the patriarchal culture of the Polish shtetl. And most particularly that man who dominates the lives of all females in his orbit, the rabbi-like paterfamilias of the piece, who has only studied Torah for his entire life and who has no skills with which to give any bread to anyone in his new world. The contradiction is obvious to everyone but himself so he ends up participating in the same tragedy which he has inflicted on his daughters by, as a widower, marrying a woman who expects nothing but … a bread giver.

American culture hasn’t changed much in the last 90 years or so, except to become a fair bit less direct in its expectations around marriage. Women are still considered second-class members of the human race by a large portion of the population, largely with biblical witness for support. Men are still considered for their economic achievement or their potential for achievement as ‘husband material’. The idea that a man could possibly waste his life in spiritual activity which, somehow, his family should fund is incomprehensible except in those orthodox Jewish communities that still seek to emulate the shtetl in America. The fact that Yezierska never has her protagonist, Sara, condemn this central aspiration/need/calling of her father is perhaps the most scandalous theme of the book to modern sensibilities, just as it undoubtedly was in 1925.
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Reading Progress

September 20, 2016 – Started Reading
September 20, 2016 – Shelved
September 21, 2016 – Finished Reading
November 2, 2016 – Shelved as: favorites
December 27, 2016 – Shelved as: jewish
January 11, 2017 – Shelved as: american
March 10, 2018 – Shelved as: history

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by Jan (new)

Jan Rice So, bringing home the bacon bread...

This is one I hadn't heard of, Michael. Will keep it in mind. Thanks.

message 2: by Margaret (new)

Margaret Read this one in the late 70's or so. I remember (misremember?) it as a part of a wave of titles by women being published and sold to feminists and feminist sympathizers. The only image within the book that I remember now is that of a bowl of chicken soup: the father got all the fat globules and his daughters ate lighter and stayed hungrier.

BlackOxford Margaret wrote: "Read this one in the late 70's or so. I remember (misremember?) it as a part of a wave of titles by women being published and sold to feminists and feminist sympathizers. The only image within the ..."
Now you see, I missed the 70's feminist wave but I'm not surprised that it was an ur-text. It is indeed details like the fat in soup that make it compelling.

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