The Clashing of Wills

Conflict between generations is a common them to many novels. In the novel”Bread Givers”, by Anzia Yezierksa, the clashing of wills of two generations is one major theme. We see clashes through culture, generations, community, religion,generations, and many others. The most prominent clash of wills is that of the protagonist Sara with her father Moisha or Reb Smolinsky. Some may say that these two characters clash because of their differences. Others might say that it their similarities that cause the clash between them both. It seems that it is a combination of their similarities and their differences that cause their clash and, in fact, binds them closer than
At the beginning of the novel we learn that Sara”s father has nick named her blood and iron recognizing the fact that she has a strong will. It is Sara”s strong will that causes the most of the conflict with her and her father. Sara gets her strong will and drive from her father. She is not like her sisters who follow the cultural expectations of early marriage, but she, instead, has greater ambition for her life. Sara plans to get an education which is not in her fathers plan for her life. Reb wants Sara to marry like her
other sisters, and live a “holy” life according to the Torah. Sara”s will to educate herself, and Reb”s will to have Sara married is what causes the conflict in their relationship. Like Sara”s blood and iron will, Reb also is driven for his daughters to live their life according to the Torah.

It is the strong will of these two characters that cause their connection. While Reb is bound to the laws and traditions of the Torah, Sara is bound to the drive to be educated or make herself a better, more successful person. One incident that exemplifies the strong will of both these characters is found at the beginning of the novel. The rent collector for the landlord comes to the apartment to collect rent, but Reb does not have the money. The two argue and Reb finally hits the collector, who is Jewish, and
shouts, “I”ll teach you respect for the Holy Torah” (p. 18). Reb is then taken off to jail for assault. Then Sara decides since none of her sisters are bringing in enough money, that she would go out and make some. She buys a some fish for twenty five cents and then hit the street to sell them for double what she paid. We see by this that Reb has an iron will when in comes to his religion and the Torah, while Sara has a will to make herself a better and successful person. He strives for religious perfection while Sara strives
Sara follows the orders of her father until she reaches her breaking point in the unsuccessful business he buys. Sara walks out on her mother and father, leaving behind all connections to her old life. This is her chance to start out in the world to attain her goal. This is a difficult thing for a girl to do in that time and place. She would face many bumps on her road, the greatest being resisting the old world that her family is bound to. While her sisters question her actions, they praise her for getting away from their father. Her sister Bessies says, “Thank God you had the courage to break away” (p 142). Bessie is praising her for not letting her father marry her off as he did her and his other two daughters.
A long time after leaving the home Reb goes to visit Sara in her small apartment. The sight of her father is something she had longed for so she was happy to see him. She thought he would understand her because, as she says, “He had given up worldly success to drink the wisdom of the Torah” (p. 202). When in fact he came to chastise her for not
accepting a marriage proposal. He feels this is her only chance to live a holy life and get into heaven. After her continued refusal and argument with her father Reb responds with, “I disown you. I curse you. May your name and your memory be blotted out of this earth” (p. 208). Sara had hoped for recognition, and even identification with her sacrifice while her father came only to shun her sacrifice. Her lifestyle, although much like his, was against his religious beliefs.
This is a point were we see how the similarities between the two is what is breaking them apart. Sara says to her father, “All my selfishness is from you” (p. 206). Just like her father, Sara had given up her life to attain success through an education, but it is the education of her father that divides them. Reb sacrificed and educated himself in the Torah that tells him that a women is to be in the home. Sara is also sacrificing but, to her father, her sacrifice in sacrilege to their religion.
Sara has an overwhelming will to educate herself in order to make herself a person. She sacrifices just about everything in her life in order to attain her goal of becoming a school teacher. She is willing to live alone, work and starve herself nearly to death, and give up all things other girls her age covet like going out on dates or wearing make-up. She address the sacrifice she makes within herself to her college dean, Sara says, “Why is it that when a nobody wants to get to be somebody she”s got to make herself terribly hard, when people like you who are born high up can keep all their kind feelings and get along so naturally well with everybody?”, (p. 231). Sara know that she
had to become somebody else in order to attain her goal. She sees that she has to become “hard” in order to be a success.
We see also in Reb a sacrifice. He has to sacrifice a life of frivolous living. He has dedicated himself to his religion, as Sara has dedicated herself to education. He acknowledges the fact that he has an obligation to live a model life. Some may say he was selfish in his dedication. This selfishness may be true but it was a selfishness that took a lot of dedication. Most could never live their lives to the letter of any law. Reb lived his life as a living example of what the Torah intended life to be. Whether we agree with it or not, his dedication is to be commended.
We see that Sara and her father share many traits. They are both selfish to the cause of their own education. They both hold an intense dedication to what they set their minds to. So much so that it exceeds their need for anything else. They also have an intense connection to the tools of their dedication, in other words, their books. After Sara turns down a suitor she says, “I seized my books and hugged them to my breast as thought they were living things.” (p. 201). Reb also shows his connection to his books in
dedicating a room in the small apartment just for them. Imagine, this family is crammed into a tiny apartment without room for light even, and he dedicates a room entirely to his books. We see that they both have a connection to learning that is stronger than any other.
We see that the greatest divide in Sara and Reb”s relation as a reflection of the expected gender roles. Reb”s religious belief says that a women”s place is in the home and that being unmarried is sinful. A complete women to Reb is a married one while to Sara a complete women is an educated on. Reb wanted Sara married over anything else, while Sara wanted her education over anything else. They both had their own best interest at hear. Reb wanted his daughter to marry to secure a place in heaven, and Sara wanted an education to secure her place in the world.
It is towards the end of the novel that we see how Sara and her father are so closely related. It is maybe at this time that Sara sees the connection as well. She comes to see how her father, like herself, had to make himself hard in order to obtain his goal of religious perfection. She says of her father, “In a world where all is changed, he alone remained unchanged-as tragically isolated as the rocks” (p. 296). She now sees how her father had to isolate and make himself hard in order to be the man he is. Sara sees that
through education she is a person, and now sees that for her father to be a person he had to be the religious person.
They say that opposites attract and we must, therefore, assume that likes repel. I think this is what we see with Sara and her father. They are essentially the same yet there outlook on life is different. They share a similar drive it is just their ideals that are different. Sara acknowledges that her connection would be there for the rest of their lives in the last passage of the book. She says, “I felt the shadow still there over me. It
wasn”t just my father, but the generations who made my father whose weight was still upon me” (p. 297). Sara realizes that she is who she is because of her father, and he is the way he is because those who came before him. It is the burden we all bare with our families. We argue because we are so connected, and are essentially cut from the same cloth. Maybe this is why similar poles repel, it is because we see in our reflection what we don”t like in the reflection.

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