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Research paper topic: A Patriarchal World Assimilation - 1578 words
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A Patriarchal World --Assimilation A Patriarchal World John Bodnar says it well when he suggests that the center of everyday life was to be found in the family-household. It was here that past values and present realities were reconciled, examined on an intelligible scale, evaluated and mediated. This assertion implies that the immigrant family-household is the vehicle of assimilation. I will take this assertion a step further and examine more specifically the powerful role of the patriarchal father within Anzia Yezierska's book Bread Givers and Barry Levinson's film Avalon. Yezierska's theme vividly depicts the constraint of a patriarchal world, while Levinson illustrates the process of assimilation and the immigrant, now American, family and its decline. In this paper, I will exemplify how the patriarchal father, Sam Kochinsky (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and Reb Smolinsky are the key determinant of the dynamics by which the family assimilates.
In assimilation, you are said to conform to your surroundings. Assimilation is a process by which you reconcile the ideal with reality. Dealing with virtually three generations of an entire Jewish American immigrant experience, Levinson illustrates not necessarily the merging of two cultures, but possibly the tainting of authenticity, clouding (memories of) the familiar-the villain being the television. The happy community of extended family is, in the end, supplanted by the glowing idiot box that kills conversation and turns its suburban audience into zombies. In Yezierska's work, she epitomizes the struggle between the Old World and the New World. The patriarchal father, representing traditional Jewish ways, and Sara Smolinsky, the heroine, struggling against her father with the desire to reconcile with reality.
In Bread Givers, Yezierska symbolically depicts Sara as the immigrant parting her ways as she embarks anew on the journey that was given to her when she arrived by which to transform her life-dealing with the daily transformation as she struggles to hold together the wants of society and her (families) authenticity in these days of deep troubles. The head of the family, Reb Smolinsky is an immovably Orthodox Jewish rabbi, who lives by the Holy Torah, and expects his family to do the same. His reign over the family reinforces Old World, traditional values and beliefs. Reb holds to the Torah belief that if they [women] let the man study the Torah in peace, the, maybe, they could push themselves in to heaven with the men, to wait on them there (Yezierska, 10). Women were to bear the burden of the household as servants of men (Yezierska, 9) and let the rabbi to his studies and prayers.
He makes it a disgrace and is outraged at times when his daughters try to assimilate into the American culture. He will not allow any part of this New World to invade into his territory. In the case of the Kochinsky family, assimilation is viewed in a much different light. As patriarchal Sam encourages the American businessman in his son, Jules, he does so by deterring Jules from the wallpaper-hanging business in saying, manual labor has no dignity. As soon as Sam has spoken, so quickly the traditional family business has lived its last generation. Jules, not out for the hard-earned dollar, joins his cousin in living out the American dream, opening their own business and becoming more and more successful with each expansion.
As the assimilating of both Sara and the Kochinskys takes place, a similar drive is shared-the want for more. In America, to be satisfied is to settle. When comparing the two accounts, a commonality is noted in the pursuit to (constantly) better oneself or perhaps excel to a favorable, personal position. Just as it is not enough for the business duo, Jules and his cousin, to run a small business, they must then own a warehouse. Sara's unsettling demeanor is also recognized as her mothers points out that when she wants a thing, there is no rest, no let-up till she gets it (Yezierska, 20).
While the motivation to better oneself is looked at in a positive light, the obsession fore more may consume you in the process, sadly leaving you with nothing. In Sara, her father finds his most persistent and unyielding opponent, and increasingly so as she becomes older. She, the youngest, has breathed heavily on the New World's aura, and eventually decides it more important to follow it rather than her father's preaching. Already, at the age of ten, Sara feels the independent sensation that money-a symbol of freedom-brings to her. When she bounds home after profiting on a mess of herring she sold, she rejoices: it began dancing before my eyes, the twenty-five herring that earned me my twenty-five cents.
It lifted me in the air, my happiness. I couldn't help it. It began dancing under my feet (Yezierska, 22-3). This sensation, a taste of the bettering American spirit, fires Sara to continue her defense against her father, and dream about what she wants. At age 17, Sara finally leaves, breaking free of her father's tyrannical preaching and unrealistic expectations, Sara begins to live out her dream on her own. Sara's vehicle is now in motion while her father's is stuck in the get-rich-quick rut on the side of the road to the American Dream.
Sara realizes the true way to achieve her dreams-the New World dream: to work hard for what you want. Reb tries to let the dream come to him. For example, waiting for the expected dividends he has invested in the husbands he has chose for his daughters. By doing this, he simultaneously shuts his family off to the dream as well-the true dream, as Sara has found it-his strong hand push[ing] back and beat[ing] down all contradictions (Yezierska, 75). An equal tenacity, combined with her New World dreams in motion, Sara is able to resist this strong hand from the now outdated roots of tradition. Unfortunately, the Kochinsky's outcome was not as favorable.
As observed in the film, Avalon, a majority of the significant scenes take place on Thanksgiving-a traditional holiday most often including a celebration with family. With each year, the crowd is thinning. This can be contributed to by many factors-all leading to the decline of family. Here, the television is symbolic. One year, a disregard for family members and eating before their arrival, results in their bitterness and ultimately their withdrawal from the Thanksgiving tradition.
The blame is quickly placed on the affect of wealth, resulting from a growing success in the television business-it is assumed with the wealth has come a loss of respect for those lower ones. Another year, not only has the crowd thinned, but there is no extended family present and, as television continues to signify assimilation, forget the fact that they are not eating at the table, more importantly, there is no conversation as they sit tuned into the television while inhaling their meal. One might ask whether or not they even gave thanks. And finally, the last scene takes place on Thanksgiving as well. This year, not only is there little family participation, there is no meal. Sadly, Michael (Sam's grandson) goes to visit Sam in a retirement home.
Of course, Sam is sitting alone in front of the television when Michael arrives with his son. Here not even an immediate family is complete, as I assume Michael's wife was left behind-God forbid they be divorced. In addition to the increasing decline the observance of the Thanksgiving tradition, another neglect for tradition is noted by Sam upon introduction to his grandson, Sam. Michael is quickly reminded by his grandfather that in accordance with the Jewish religion, you are not to name after the living. Through a consistent show of the lack of interest to uphold custom, Levinson uses the television to symbolize the cost of assimilation. What one may be giving up in order to become Americanized-family and culture-may not be readily apparent, given one's economic and status gains from the process. Both Yezierska and Levinson cleverly insinuate this.
As Sara grows older, she turns her persistence into a mechanism to better herself and completely and single-handedly used her determination as a way to improve her personal situation and be self-sufficient. It seems that the more assimilated to the American culture one becomes, the lonelier they appear. This trend of loneliness is also exemplified in the final scene of Avalon where patriarchal Sam is alone, the product of assimilation. Through example, Sam, being the patriarchal father, suggested an adaptation in the hopes that Jules would simply have a better life than that of a wallpaper-hanger. In putting television in place a New World, Levinson portrays how a cheap, gaudy, poor substitute somehow seduced and enraptured the family.
Perhaps Levinson is saying that although it may be the easier to converge, assimilation is too costly. On the other hand, you have Reb whose stubborn beliefs and male superiority coupled with a passive wife allow him to claim control over his daughter's lives. Resentment is quite damaging and separates families as well. Either way you look at it the outlook is favorable for neither assimilation nor isolation. And so I conclude in saying that the patriarchal father has an especially important role and while he needs the strength found in Yezierska's character, Reb, (in order to hold the family together) he must also be willing to adapt to a changing reality. Immigration is neither a call for assimilation nor isolation.
Individuality is important, but why resist change when you can better yourself in the process. American History.
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