5. There was one in the school who was what I dreamed a teacher to be—the principal, Mr. Hugo Seelig. He kept that living thing, that flame, that I used to worship as a child. And yet he had none of that aloof dignity of a superior. He was just plain human. When he entered a classroom sunlight filled the place.
Though this statement, given by Sara early in Chapter XX, is describing the man Sara falls in love with, it also goes far in explaining the love-hate relationship Sara has with her father. According to Sara, the thing that drew her most to Hugo was the living flame that drove his teaching, the light that even passersby could see shining from him. Though Sara herself fails to note the comparison, Yezierska specifically mentions several times how the light shone from Reb Smolinsky’s face, even noting that this light was one of the qualities that first appealed to Sara’s mother. Sara has long admired this light of her father’s and seeks to find something similar for herself through her devotion to education. When she thinks she’s found it, after Max leaves, the first thing she wants to do is share it with her father. Even though he refuses the connection, Sara still can’t help but look for similar qualities in a potential husband.
Sara is careful to note at least one significant difference between herself and her father. Along with his light, one of the first qualities that drew Sara to Hugo was his humanity. Unlike Reb Smolinsky, who always set himself above the rest of his family and rejected his daughter’s attempts to reach out to him, Hugo is careful not to be seen as either aloof from or superior to the teachers and students with whom he worked. He treats small, grubby children with the same respect as learned scholars, a quality Sara reveres. Hugo respects Sara’s intelligence and ability, not taking credit for her work and not pressuring her into doing something more traditional. He understands her in a way her father never did, fulfilling the need that sent her running away from home and kept her resolve firm, even after she was disowned. Hugo might not have the same prestige as Reb Smolinsky, but in Sara’s eyes, it is that very prestige that kept her father from being the support she needed him to be.