Bread Givers

by: Anzia Yezierska

Important Quotations Explained

2. It says in the Torah: What’s a woman without a man? Less than nothing—a blotted out existence. No life on earth and no hope in heaven.

This comment is from Chapter XV, when Reb Smolinsky berates Sara for refusing Max Goldstein. Sara spends many of her formative years defying this teaching, declaring in a variety of ways that her existence is as strong and important as any man’s. Women are not supposed to judge men, yet at a young age, Sara interrupts the engagement party of Bessie’s former love, Berel, to curse him for hurting her sister, and she later grows to hate her father for hurting his daughters. She refuses to bow to her father’s will concerning store decisions she believes are wrong and defies him in a loud shouting match. Sara then runs away from home, hoping to live the life she chooses and not the one her father dictates for her. Despite her father’s strict disapproval, she also refuses to marry Max Goldstein, sensing that the marriage would stop her from fulfilling her dream. Sara pursues her goals using her own will on her own terms.

As Sara gets older, however, she begins to wonder whether her father’s words might hold a grain of truth. Sara is a total outcast in school and at work, left out of all social groups because of the way she has chosen to live her life. Society believes that girls her age should be seeking husbands, and no one is willing to accept or understand that Sara would much rather be on a quest for knowledge. She develops impossible crushes, first with Morris Lipkin and then with Mr. Edman, in an attempt to find a connection with someone. She’s so starved for male companionship that she nearly allows herself to be swept away by Max Goldstein, despite the fact that he can talk only about himself and belittles the education Sara is working so hard to achieve. Even the glories of a teaching job eventually begin to ring hollow, and not until Sara and Hugo Seelig become a couple do her descriptions of life regain their original glow. Though Sara is able to have a life on her own, she feels life is much richer when a man is involved.