Both novels The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska are about families from the early twentieth century who face enormous problems of living in a patriarchal home that is obviously not working. Both books focus on the daughters of the families and the hardships
She is an eleven year old African American girl who believes that she is extremely ugly and she believes that the ultimate beauty of a person would be to have blue eyes. She measures beauty by white American standards of her day which is just after the Great Depression and she struggles with her race not only with whites, but with other lighter African Americans. The line between colored and nigger was not always clear; subtle and telltale signs threatened to erode it, and the watch had to be constant. (Morrison, 87) Sara Smolinski is the protagonist of Bread Givers.
She is the youngest daughter in a Jewish family who have immigrated to the United States from Poland in the 1910’s and 20’s. The Smolinski family live in New York City while the Breedloves live in a small town in Ohio. However, the setting makes little difference when it comes to the problems that each family faces. They are both looked down upon because of their race and their socioeconomic positions in society because both families live in poverty. The early part of the twentieth century in the United States was a patriarchal society and all classes lived by those rules. The father controlled the family especially the wives and daughters.
While sons were strictly guided by their fathers as well, they did gain freedom at the legal age of maturity and they would hen become the leaders of their own families. Daughters were totally ruled by their fathers and wives knew that they were not
In the true patriarchal society, the male head of the house did have responsibilities, and the most important one was to provide for his family. In both these homes the men want to totally control the women, but they are not the providers. Instead they do nothing by take from the women. Cholly is an alcoholic and an abuser, while Reb has devoted his life to studying the Jewish religion and the Torah. This would not have been a bad thing for him to do except that he does not use this to make a living.
In the true patriarchal family, the father is also to provide guidance and security to his family so that he is worthy of their respect and loyalty. Cholly Breedlove totally perverts his duty as the head of his household. He has done nothing for his wife’s self esteem. She is convinced that she is ugly, and that her deformed foot has made her a cast off of society. Instead of reassuring her that he is attracted to her and that he appreciates the work she does and the money that she brings to the family, he berates her, has adulterous relationships on her, and he constantly battles her.
The worse perverse action that he takes is when he rapes his preteen daughter, Pecola. If a father is to have control of his daughters in a patriarchal society, then society expects his to lover her, protect her and guide her. Cholly Breedlove breaks all the rules of society by taking away the innocence of his child, and violating rather than protecting her. He impregnates her so which means that he will rob her of her respectable place in society. Even though today’s society understands that the child is the victim, it was not that way in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.
Pecola is impregnated by her father and the baby dies. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live. (Morrison, 206) She then goes insane and therefore, he has completely ruined her life. . [Pecola beat] the air, a winged but grounded bird, intent on the blue void it could not reach – could not even see – but which filled the valleys of the mind. (Morrison, 204) Reb Smolinski also takes from his wife, Shena.
She is in awe of her husband’s intellect and devotion to his religion. She works very hard to support him and make him comfortable even though they live in extreme poverty. Unlike Cholly, Reb does not physically abuse his wife. Reb’s daughter fare for worse than their mother does when it comes to his treatment of them. While he does not violate the girl’s virtue, he is still cruel to them psychologically. He has each girl work very hard outside of the home even though he does not do this himself.
He convinces each girl that it is a father’s duty to take their wages and to use it toward the providential care of the family. Like the Old Testament men, Reb rules every aspect of his daughter’s lives. He truly believes that It says in the Torah: What’s a woman without a man? Less than nothing—a blotted out existence. No life on earth and no hope in heaven. (Yezierska, 205) He too, like Cholly, does not do this for the ultimate benefit of the girls, but for his own selfish reasons. This is evident when we first see Bessie bring home a young man that she has an interest.
The young man is a good man, is not living in poverty, and seems to love Bessie enough to want to take good care of her. He is also willing to take no dowry, something that was unheard of in that culture, just so that he could spend the rest of his life with her. Instead of being overjoyed that his daughter would have a wonderful life full of love ahead of her, he ruins the relationship between them. Bessie resigns herself to her father when she tells her lover I know I’m a fool. But I cannot help it. I haven’t the courage to live for myself. My own life is knocked out of me.
No wonder Father called me the burden bearer. (Yezierska, 50) He does the same thing to his other daughters except for Sarah and instead, arranges poor marriages for them and their lives are completely ruined. Sarah stands up to her father and runs away. She becomes a teacher, and continues to live a life of poverty until she has finished her schooling, and begins to make a good living for herself. Her father has disowned her for no other reason except that she has not obeyed him completely and has made life better for herself. This has taken away his power over her.
Because of the underhanded workings of his second wife, apparently he could not control her as he did the Shena, Sarah becomes close to the principal at the school where she works. After they have established a relationship, Sarah and Hugo, the principal revert back to the mindset of the patriarchal society in which they had both been reared, and the book ends with the assumption that Reb will move in with them and they will take care of him the way that he should have taken care of Sarah when she was a child and a young woman. 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. (Yezierska, 297) Both of the novels Bread Givers and The Bluest Eye concentrate on the negatives of the patriarchal society. Society has now moved far away from that mind set, however remnants of it can still be seen. They both portray the powerlessness of women, even though one, Sarah, rises above it and takes charge of her own life. Works Cited Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. 1970. London: Chatto and Windus, Ltd. 1979. Yezierska, Anzia. Bread Givers. 1925. Ne