What is the significance of the novel’s title?
The title is an ironic reference to the title in Rabbinic literature given to men “bread givers”—referring to one of their primary duties to their families which is to provide bread, or the needs of the family. The sad reality in the novel however is that the men in the lives of the Smolinsky women are far from that. In fact, all of the men whom the Smolinsky women are tied to either by marriage or blood relations are painfully inadequate providers—not just of their financial needs—but also of their emotional needs as well.
How is the conflict between familial duty and fulfilling personal desires discussed in the novel?
There is a great tension between the fulfillment of familial duties and self-actualization of the characters in the novel. Often, familial duty actually hampers a character from achieving personal goals or attaining personal fulfillment. Bessie and Mashah are unable to be with the people they love because of an overwhelming sense of obligation to their respective families.Sara nearly escapes this toxic cycle of familial guilt when she begins her studies but is reeled in once more when she mother falls ill.
Would you consider the novel to be an example of feminist writing? Explain your answer.
Although the novel is more of a criticism of Jewish culture there is much in the novel that criticizes the social systems that make it extremely difficult for women to find both emotional fulfillment as well as financial freedom. Similarly, the male characters in the novel are also case studies of failures as husbands and providers. Reb Smolinsky all but ensures his family’s failure by refusing to work and/or foolishly giving away whatever little money his kids earn. He cannot be relied of for sound counsel either as the decisions he makes usually end up with his children on the proverbial short end of the stick. He reinforces with tyrannical zeal the teachings of the Torah that state that a woman’s very existence is to be defined by her husband, and in choosing husbands for his two older daughters he all but dooms then into unhappy unions with abusive men: Mashah’s husband is even worse than her father, Fania’s husband provides for her financial needs but denies her the emotional connection she so desperately seeks. Sara, although unmarried is similarly let down by men as none of her male teachers take her seriously.
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