Anzia Yezierska

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Anzia Yezierska (c. 18801970) was a novelist born in Pinsk, Congress Poland, Russian Empire who migrated to New York City.


  • A man is free to go up as high as he can reach up to; but I, with all my style and pep, can't get a man my equal because a girl is always judged by her mother.
    • The Fat of the Land, from Hungry Hearts and Other Stories (1920)
  • Without comprehension, the immigrant would forever remain shut—a stranger in America. Until America can release the heart as well as train the hand of the immigrant, he would forever remain driven back upon himself, corroded by the very richness of the unused gifts within his soul.
    • How I Found America, pt. 3, from Hungry Hearts and Other Stories (1920)
  • The trouble with us is that the ghetto of the Middle Ages and the children of the twentieth century have to live under one roof.
    • The Fat of the Land, from Hungry Hearts and Other Stories (1920)

Red Ribbon on a White Horse (1950)[edit]

  • Poverty was an ornament on a learned man like a red ribbon on a white horse
    • Of Poland, ch. 9
  • Give a beggar a dime and he'll bless you. Give him a dollar and he'll curse you for withholding the rest of your fortune. Poverty is a bag with a hole at the bottom.
    • ch. 9
  • In America, money takes the place of God.
  • Poverty is a bag with a hole at the bottom.
  • I tasted the bread and wine of equality.

Quotes about Anzia Yezierska[edit]

  • For Mary Antin and another immigrant Jewish author, Anzia Yezierska, the sacrifices were costly but appeared warranted, the passports to professional success and American identities. Part of a generation bridging Yiddish culture and Yankee experience, Antin and Yezierska passionately described the struggles and changes within the immigrant Jewish family. More than half a century ago, the autobiographical Promised Land and the novel, Bread Givers, anticipated the concerns of such later authors as Tillie Olsen, Grace Paley, Cynthia Ozick, Norma Rosen and Joanne Greenberg.
    • Evelyn Avery, "Oh My 'Mishpocha'! Some Jewish Women Writers from Antin to Kaplan View the Family," Studies in American Jewish Literature 5 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), 44-48
  • Anzia Yezierska, who told, in yiddish-like english, stories of Jewish immigrants, especially women's struggles for love, freedom, and education. Of her work, she wrote: "It's not me-it's their cries-my own people-crying in me! Hannah Breineh, Shmendrek, they will not be stilled in me, till all America stops to listen."
    • Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz "Some Notes on Jewish Lesbian Identity" (Summer 1980-Winter 1981) in Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology

Sydney Weinberg, The World of Our Mothers: : The Lives of Jewish Immigrant Women (1988)[edit]

  • This tension between the desire to Americanize and the psychological hold of parents and their traditions has been best described in the novels of Anzia Yezierska. In six books published between 1920 and 1932, Yezierska wrote of the squalor of ghetto life and the constant struggle against dirt, poverty, and old-world family restrictions. Her works portray the longing of a young woman for freedom and beauty, personified by the non-Jewish world, and each one ends with the realization that the source of life lies in the world that was rejected. "All these years," she wrote in All I Could Never Be, "I have gone about a little bit ashamed of my manners, my background. I was so eager to acquire from the Gentiles their low voices, their calm, their poise, that I lost what I had-what I was.' The young woman in Children of Loneliness observes, "I can't live with the old world, and I'm yet too green for the new. Yezierska was not so much writing novels as she was autobiography, so her plots appear and reappear in scarcely changed form. She could tell no other story than her own, but she recorded that with a searing passion. The plot of Bread Givers, her most popular novel, she explained to producer Sam Goldwyn, "is the expiation of guilt. . . . I had to break away from my mother's cursing and my father's preaching to live my life: but without them I had no life. When you deny your parents, you deny the ground under your feet, the sky over your head. You become an outlaw, a pariah...And now, here I am-lost in chaos, wandering between worlds."
  • Daughters like Anzia Yezierska, who left home at seventeen seeking above all to become a "person," had longings alien to their parents, whose main concern was basic survival.
  • One young woman in Anzia Yezierska's short story, "Hunger," recalled, as her eyes grew misty, "How I suffered in Savel. I never had enough to eat. I never had shoes on my feet. I had to go barefoot even in the freezing winter. But still I love it. I was born there. I love the houses and the straw roofs, the mud streets, the cows, the chickens and the goats. My heart always hurts me for what is no more.'
  • In "The Fat of the Land," Anzia Yezierska describes an unfortunate woman whose children had prospered and insisted that she move away from Delancey Street to the Upper West Side of Manhattan. But her Americanized children are strange to her, and she feels isolated amidst her new luxury and misses, above all, her old neighbors. "Uptown here," she tells a friend who comes to visit, "nobody cares if the person next door is dying or going crazy from loneliness. It ain't anything like we used to have in Delancey Street, when we could walk into one another's rooms without knocking, and borrow a pinch of salt or a pot to cook in."17 In friendship, there was comfort, and without it, women felt bereft.

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