2: Text excerpt, Alice Kessler-Harris’s introduction to "Bread Givers," 1999.
In the mid-1960s, in the course of research for a doctoral dissertation, scholar Alice Kessler-Harris rediscovered Yezierska’s novel, which had gone out of print. She brought Bread Givers to the attention of Persea Books, which republished it, with an insightful introduction by Kessler-Harris. In this excerpt, Kessler-Harris discusses the recurring theme in Yezierska’s work of an immigrant woman “becoming a person.”
Suggested Activity: Before students begin reading Bread Givers, ask them to make note as they read of any references in the text to “becoming a person.” Later, at the start of this discussion, ask them to take out their notes and find some of those references. Read some of the references aloud from the novel, and ask students the following questions. What does it mean to Sara Smolinsky to “become a person” or “be a person”? What are some of the characteristics associated with “being a person”? What does that particular phrase imply about the way she sees herself and her family, and about her goals?
Then read the excerpt from Kessler-Harris as a class and discuss the relationship in Bread Givers between “becoming a person” and becoming an American. Were the two synonymous for Sara? Why was the journey of Americanization “anguished”? What were the milestones along the journey for a Jewish immigrant woman like Sara? (These might include becoming educated, earning one’s own living, engaging with the world beyond the Jewish immigrant community, learning to speak without an accent, choosing one’s own husband, etc.) What does Kessler-Harris mean when she says that “A jumble of emotions assaulted the poor immigrant who tried to absorb these rules all at once”? What emotions did Sara and each of her sisters feel as they tried, in their own ways, to “be a person”? What were the conflicts—both internal and external—Sara faced as she made this journey?
Source: Alice Kessler-Harris, introduction to Bread Givers, by Anzia Yezierska (New York: Persea Books, 2003), xxxi.