Abstract

As more than two and a half million Jewish immigrants flooded America between 1880 and 1920, women struggled to define their role in the Jewish community. While men in the Old World expected women to be submissive to their authority, the New World provided a spirit of independence for youthful women. Women like writer Anzia Yezierska sought out this independence and escaped the oppression of Old World traditions by creating fiction which mimicked her struggles as an immigrant. In her semi-autobiographical novel Breadgivers, Yezierska depicts Sara Smolinsky as the youngest daughter of Reb, a Torah scholar, who forces his daughters to financially and emotionally support his devotion to prayer. Rather than sacrifice her life for her father, Sara embraces the New World spirit and leaves seeking an education. She triumphantly declared "I'm smart enough to look out for myself. It's a new life now...Thank God, I'm not living in olden times." As Sara flew for the door in search of her new life in college, she thought, "The Old World had struck its last on me." Only after college did Sara realize that the oppression of not only her father, but the burdens of the generations before him still lay upon her. Young female protagonists like Sara believed they were pioneers who in becoming American shed the ethnicity that robbed them of the wealth, education and respect of Anglo middle-class "whites."

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