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The Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska: An Argument for the Curriculum

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There are certain novels that should be taught in the high school setting because of the messages of life that they teach.  The Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska is one of those novels.  Even though it was written in 1925, it is deals with universal themes such as discrimination, racism, and dysfunctional families which are issues that are very important societal issues today.

Anzia Yesierska was born a Jewish girl in Poland in 1880.  While she was still a child, her family immigrated to the United States and she was forced to work long hours in the sweat shops.  Sweat shops do not exist anymore in the United States, but the other problems that the Smolinsky family, the family of the novel, face are relevant today.  It is possible to teach young adults about the Industrial Revolution, which is not the most exciting period in history, in a way that will actually hold their interest.

            During this time there were many immigrants who came to this country for employment and to flee persecution.  The Smolinsky family came for just that purpose.  Once they got here, they discovered that this new country had been around long enough to create its own culture, and therefore, theirs was very different.  They had to face discrimination because of their ethnic Eastern European heritage and their Jewish religion.  For a country that knows so little about its history, this novel would not only teach the students about the events of that time, it would actually take them into a home so that they could see what it was like to live during the early 1900’s in an immigrant family.

September 11, 2001 is a day that will remain in the memories of the American people as long as they live.  It was a dark and tragic day when the United States was attacked by a terrorist group.  Even though the terrorist were of Middle Eastern descent and of the Muslim faith, that did not mean that all people from that region of the world and everyone of the same faith were terrorist.  There are immigrants from other cultures that are also looked down upon for no reason at all except that their culture is different.  The Smolinski family’s culture was also looked down upon during that time period.  By teaching the novel, it would be a tool to allow students to see the other side, and to realize that people are valuable no matter what culture they come from.

The Smolinskis are also a dysfunctional family.  It is a patriarchal one where the father uses his daughters and wife to provide for him.  He also manipulated their lives and robs them of the joys that young women should be having at that stage of their lives.  Studies show that many young people come from dysfunctional families in this country.  In the novel Sarah Smolinski, the youngest daughter, leaves the family and overcomes all of the problems of her family.  This would encourage the young adults in this school because they could see how Sara overcame, and they would realize that they could as well.  Sarah also came full circle in the relationship with her father so that they could both start a healing process.  This would also be a terrific lesson on emotional healing for the students.

            The Bread Givers is an entertaining novel, but there is so much more to the book than just its entertainment value.  The lessons of family and prejudice are priceless.  In a nation where both the family and the culture need healing like never before in history, this book must be taught.

Works Cited

Yezierska, Anzia. Bread Givers. 1925. New York: Doubleday. 1975.

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