Page 49 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

Basic HTML Version

LERNER / THE MAKING OF A PERSON
43
shape in hum an form and lifted h e r in mid-air.”3 This rou te
usually ends in disaster as the passionately desired American male
turns his back on the imm igrant Jewish woman who is an app ro ­
priate subject for sociological research or object o f charity, bu t not
a p rope r object o f romance. Thus, in
Bread Givers
(1925), Sara
Smolinsky’s advances are rejected by the college instructor, Mr.
Edman, whose interest she has m isinterpre ted as romantic. Simi­
larly, in
Arrogant Beggars
(1927), Adele is rejected by the wealthy
philanthropist A r thu r Heilman. Yet ano ther type o f male-female
relationship, modeled on h e r own with Dewey, is the filial one
which female protagonists develop with older American men who
help them to achieve independence. Although these relationships
are not consummated, they do not evoke the angry response
engendered by the younger, crass American males.4
The o ther rou te toward Americanization — independence,
generally reaches its goal. Sara Smolinsky does finally find her
man and even becomes reconciled to h e r tyrannical fa ther when
she has completed college and become “a teacher o f the schools
with an all-year salary from the Government.”5 Adele opens a
r e s ta u ra n t an d , as th e successfu l p r o p r ie to r , renew s h e r
friendship with and eventually marries Jean Rachmansky, an
immigrant pianist and composer whom Heilman had also be­
friended. Thus, it is clear that without independence the re can be
no lasting o r meaningful relationships.
T he re is ano the r quality to be developed along the road to
personhood, bu t its development must first await independence.
T h a t quality is altruism. Thus the independen t Sara Smolinsky
does invite he r fa the r to move into the home she shares with
Hugh. Similarly, Jean and Adele are to be found at the end o f
Arrogant Beggars
on the gangplank awaiting the arrival o f Shenah
Gittel, Muhmenkeh’s g randdaugh ter, whom they have invited to
share their lives. This is only app rop ria te as Muhmenkeh, a poor
old woman, had, before her death, taugh t Adele her respon ­
sibilities toward others. How d ifferen t she is from the wealthy
philanthropist Mrs. Heilman whose charity is offered stintingly to
3 Yezierska, “Wings,”
ibid
. , p. 3.
4 For an extensive and careful study of the Dewey-Yezierska relationship see
Boydston, esp. pp. xxiii-xlviii.
5 Yezierska,
Bread Givers
(N.Y.: Braziller, 1975), p. 245. First edition, 1925.