Page 48 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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1915. “The Fat o f the Land” won the Edward J. O ’Brien Award
for the Best Short Story o f 1919. She was romantically involved
with John Dewey in 1917-1918 du ring which period she aud ited
his seminar in Social and Political Philosophy. She also took a
writing course at Columbia in 1918. H er novels and short stories
were published in the 1920’s and 1930’s, followed by the quasi-
Red Ribbon on a White Horse
(1952) and a post­
humous collection o f short stories,
The Open Cage
(1979). Al­
though she was not formally part o f the feminist g roup in the
1920’s, she was clearly allied with it in sp irit.1
Yezierska accosts the reader time and again with h e r own
Fictionalized plight and with the plight o f h e r friends, relatives
and neighbors. Although she presents herself as an un tu to red
au thor, writing a realistic, collective imm igrant saga, he r writing is
neither autobiographically accurate no r innocent o f artifice. H er
descriptions o f life among the imm igrant Jews o f the Lower East
Side o f New York generally focus on the women whose lives are
limited. The grind ing poverty and filth, the stress o f the conflict­
ing demands o f husbands, children and boarders, the limited
culture are all colorfully portrayed in starkly realistic terms.
The goal o f the imm igrant woman is to rise above the squalid
conditions o f her life, to become Americanized, and to “make a
person o f herself.”2 The road toward Americanization takes d if­
ferent turns. It often seems to lie in the direction o f an American
man who, as Shenah Pessah puts it in “Wings,” appears “as
though the god o f h e r innermost longings had suddenly taken
1 The most reliable biographical information on Anzia Yezierska can be found in
Jules Chametzky, “Anzia Yezierska,”
Notable American Women: The Modem
ed. by Barbara Sicherman and Carol Hurd Green (Cambridge: Harvard,
1980), pp. 753-754; Alice Kessler Harris, “Introduction” in Anzia Yezierska,
Bread Givers
(N.Y.: Braziller, 1975), pp. v-xviii; Alice Kessler-Harris, “Introduc­
tion” and Louise Levitas Henriksen, “Afterword” in Anzia Yezierska,
The Open
(N.Y.: Persea, 1979), pp. v-xiii and 253-262, respectively; and Jo Ann
Boydston, “Introduction,”
The Poems of fohn Dewey
(Carbondale and Ed-
wardsville: Southern 111. Univ. Press, 1977), pp. ix-lxvii.
2 Anzia Yezierska, “The Miracle,”
Hungry Hearts
(New York: Grosset and Dunlap
1920), p. 132.