Bread Givers
Goodreads ratings
3.73 / 5

"Bread Givers" Summary

By Anzia Yezierska

fiction | 336 pages | Published in NaN

This masterwork of American immigrant literature is set in the 1920s on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and tells the story of Sara Smolinsky, the youngest daughter of an Orthodox rabbi, who rebels against her father's rigid conception of Jewish womanhood. Sarah's struggle towards independence and self-fulfillment resonates with a passion all can share. Beautifully redesigned page for page with the previous editions, Bread Givers is an essential historical work with enduring relevance.


Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

A young immigrant girl struggles to break free from the traditional expectations of her family and find her own voice in early 20th century New York City.


"Bread Givers" by Anzia Yezierska is a captivating novel that provides a poignant portrayal of the struggles of an immigrant family in New York City during the early 20th century. Through the lens of the Jewish-American experience, the book delves into themes of tradition, independence, and the pursuit of the American Dream. With its vivid characters and evocative storytelling, "Bread Givers" offers a compelling exploration of the tension between familial obligation and personal ambition.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

Set in the Lower East Side of New York City in the 1920s, "Bread Givers" follows the journey of Sara Smolinsky, the youngest daughter of an Orthodox Jewish immigrant family. The novel chronicles Sara's coming-of-age as she navigates the conflicting expectations of her traditional father and her own desire for independence and self-fulfillment.


The story unfolds in the tenements of New York City, where the crowded and bustling streets serve as a backdrop for the clash of Old World traditions and the allure of the American Dream. The cultural melting pot of the Lower East Side provides a rich and vibrant setting for the characters' experiences as they grapple with poverty, identity, and the pursuit of a better life.

Main Characters

Sara SmolinskyA determined and headstrong young woman who yearns to break free from the constraints of her traditional upbringing and find her own path in America.
Reb SmolinskySara's father, a devout and authoritarian patriarch who clings to the ways of the Old World and seeks to maintain control over his family according to his religious beliefs.
Bessie SmolinskySara's older sister, who struggles to balance her own aspirations with the demands of their father, often serving as a foil to Sara's independent spirit.
Mashah SmolinskyAnother sister of Sara's, who grapples with her own desires and the pressures of conforming to the expectations placed upon her by her father and society.

Story Points Over Chapters

Chapter 1-5: The Smolinsky Household

Sara introduces her family and their oppressive living conditions in the tenements of New York City. She recounts her father's authoritarian rule and the burden it places on her and her sisters. Sara's desire for education and independence clashes with her father's insistence on traditional gender roles.

Chapter 6-10: Struggles and Ambitions

As Sara grows older, her determination to find her own path intensifies. She grapples with the challenges of being a woman in a patriarchal society, and her passion for learning and self-improvement becomes a point of contention with her father.

Chapter 11-15: Love and Conflict

Sara's romantic entanglements and her aspirations for a life beyond the confines of her family cause further conflict with her father. She faces the prospect of arranged marriage and confronts the limitations imposed on her by societal expectations.

Chapter 16-20: Pursuit of Independence

Sara's pursuit of education and a career leads to a rupture with her family as she strives to break free from their oppressive control. She experiences the harsh realities of poverty and discrimination but remains steadfast in her determination to forge her own destiny.

Chapter 21-25: Trials and Triumphs

Sara's journey to independence is fraught with challenges, yet she perseveres in her pursuit of self-sufficiency. She grapples with the conflicting pull of familial loyalty and the yearning for personal fulfillment, ultimately facing the defining moments that will shape her future.

Main Events

  • Sara's conflicts with her father over education and independence
  • Sara's romantic relationships and the clash with traditional expectations
  • Sara's pursuit of a career and the challenges she faces as a young woman in a male-dominated society
  • The rupture between Sara and her family as she strives for independence
  • Sara's triumphs and setbacks as she navigates the path to self-sufficiency

Themes and Insights

Tradition vs. Modernity

The novel explores the tension between traditional values and the desire for individual autonomy, particularly through Sara's struggle to reconcile her aspirations with the expectations of her family and community.

Gender and Identity

"Bread Givers" delves into the challenges faced by women in a patriarchal society, shedding light on the limitations and expectations placed upon them and the resilience required to defy societal norms.

Immigration and the American Dream

The story captures the immigrant experience and the pursuit of the American Dream, highlighting the struggles, sacrifices, and aspirations of those seeking a better life in a new land.

Family and Independence

The dynamics of familial relationships and the quest for personal independence are central themes, as Sara grapples with the pull of familial duty while striving to carve out her own identity and place in the world.

Reader's Takeaway

"Bread Givers" offers a powerful and resonant depiction of the immigrant experience, capturing the complexities of family, tradition, and the pursuit of individual autonomy. Readers will find themselves immersed in Sara's journey as she confronts the challenges of her time, ultimately emerging as a tenacious and inspiring figure who defies the constraints placed upon her.


Anzia Yezierska's "Bread Givers" stands as a poignant and enduring exploration of the immigrant experience and the pursuit of self-determination in the face of tradition and adversity. Through Sara's indomitable spirit and unwavering determination, the novel offers a compelling narrative that continues to resonate with readers, inviting reflection on the enduring themes of identity, independence, and the pursuit of one's dreams amidst the crucible of cultural change.

Bread Givers FAQ

  1. What is the genre of 'Bread Givers'?

    Bread Givers is a novel that falls under the genre of immigrant literature and coming-of-age fiction.

  2. Who is the author of 'Bread Givers'?

    The author of 'Bread Givers' is Anzia Yezierska, a Polish-American novelist and short story writer.

  3. What is the main theme of 'Bread Givers'?

    The main themes of 'Bread Givers' include the pursuit of independence, the tension between tradition and modernity, and the immigrant experience in America.

  4. Is 'Bread Givers' based on a true story?

    While 'Bread Givers' is a work of fiction, it draws heavily from the author's own experiences as a Jewish immigrant living in the Lower East Side of New York City.

  5. What is the setting of 'Bread Givers'?

    The novel is set in the early 20th century on the Lower East Side of New York City, a vibrant and diverse immigrant neighborhood.