The thesis workshop we did really helped me refine the ideas that I had for the final capstone paper. I came into class with the general idea of examining the book from differing ethnic perspectives, but my thesis was weak and the idea didn’t hold much promise. I talked to Ryan and Hannah, who helped me identify the weaknesses in my thesis. My original thesis was something along the lines of “I will be examining how foreign languages and English dialects are used in Madame Butterfly, A Japanese Nightingale, and the works of Zitkala-sa”. The problem is that I wasn’t really making a claim.
After looking long and hard at my thesis, I decided to switch topics. Instead, I will be trying to identify what things women from diverse backgrounds felt were important. After identifying some issues, I will make a statement based on my findings and use evidence to support it. This method of thesis construction will yield a much more pointed paper than what I was doing before.
I thought that Ryan’s thesis was interesting, if a little long winded. There were a few things he could have cut out while still making the same point, but his general idea was interesting and I look forward to hearing more about it. Hannah was struggling to find a thesis at this point, which is surprising given how on top of things she usually is. I’ll have to reserve my judgement on her work for later.
I always think that the relationships in these books are interesting, because they tell a lot about what the author is trying to say. Yezierska repeatedly put Masha, Fania, and Bessie in stark juxtaposition to Sara in order to give her view on how male-female relationships should work, at least romantically. Sara is happy in her relationship, while her three sisters are miserable in theirs. That’s not to say that romantic relationships are the only important ones. The relationship between mother and daughter in Bread Givers reminds me a little of the relationship between Zitkala-Sa and her mother. Both Sara and Zitkala-Sa move away in order to pursue a higher education. Neither of their mothers agree with the decision, but they each love their child enough to provide support.
This book was published a little over a decade before the outbreak of World War II, so I’d be curious to know if there was an anti-Semitic reaction to Bread Givers. Living as a Jew in the early 20th century must have been hard, and many Jews were certainly immigrating from Europe around this time.
In reading some additional historical information, I happened upon some interesting immigration trends. There was a large group of Jews entrenched in New York by 1900. These people had become accustomed to New York and “Americanized”. After this, a wave of more orthodox Jews from Eastern Europe arrived in New York, conflicting with the entrenched Jewish population due to cultural differences. According to the census, by the 1920’s over 2.2 million Eastern European Jews had immigrated to New York City. Yezierska is obviously making a case for the Americanized Jew versus the Orthodox Jew of her and Sara’s childhood. I thought that Yezierska was only making a case for the role of the new woman; I hadn’t even stopped to consider the effect of religion even though Judaism was such a prominent factor in this book.
I don’t know that I’ve seen these writers directly address each other, but I have seen many authors confront the same issues, albeit often in different ways. They all seem to have problems being seen as legitimate by men, adapting to their role as a new woman, and living with the new freedoms that this role entails.