Coming-of-age; family drama

Point of View

The narrator speaks in first person, focusing only on Sara’s thoughts, feelings, and perspective. Though the motivations of the other characters are occasionally discussed, the narrator usually gives only an objective view of their appearance and actions as they would appear to an outside observer.


The narrator’s tone is passionate as she discusses her feelings, life, and family.




New York City, from the 1910s to early 1920s


As a child, Sara develops a crush on Morris Lipkin because of the words he writes. Later, she develops a crush on another educated man, Mr. Edman, because of the words he speaks in class. Despite her mother’s doubt, Sara makes a profit selling herring on the street. Later, Sara will achieve her dream of becoming a teacher, despite her father’s doubts. Reb Smolinsky’s choice of husbands for his oldest daughters trap them in unhappy marriages. Later, the new wife he chooses for himself traps him in an equally unhappy marriage. The girls at the laundry reject Sara, despite her attempts to dress like them. Later, the girls at the college also refuse to accept Sara when she attempts to look like them.

Major Conflict

Sara struggles to develop her own identity against the opposition of her father and culture.

Rising Action

After Reb Smolinsky crushes Sara’s sisters’ dreams in the name of culture, Sara becomes more and more aware of her father’s tyranny and injustice.


After her father berates a minor decision of Sara’s, she can no longer take the constant scolding and restrictions, and she runs away to begin a new life.

Falling Action

Living on her own, Sara works to become a teacher and to reconcile her need for independence with her need for her father’s acceptance.