Read an in-depth analysis of Sara Smolinsky.
Read an in-depth analysis of Reb Smolinsky.
Shena Smolinsky - Sara’s mother and Reb Smolinsky’s long-suffering wife. Shena is truly in awe of her husband’s holiness, though she complains bitterly about the poverty it forces on her. She also feels protective of her husband—he lives so much in his own world that it’s hard for him to function in the real one. She firmly believes a woman’s highest aspiration is to be a wife and mother, and despite her husband’s manipulations, she genuinely wishes to see her daughters settled into good marriages. Though she doesn’t understand why Sara desires a different route, she loves her enough to support her in the best way she can.
Read an in-depth analysis of Bessie Smolinsky.
Read an in-depth analysis of Mashah Smolinsky.
Fania Smolinsky - One of the middle Smolinsky daughters. Comfortable with speaking her mind, Fania goes further than either Bessie or Mashah in defending her sweetheart. However, Fania is also more practical than her sisters and attempts to make her father’s choice of husband work for her. Ultimately unsuccessful, she complains bitterly about her marriage at every opportunity and, though she frequently derides Sara’s accomplishments, appears jealous of her sisters, as well. Though she lives across the country, Fania keeps in regular contact with her mother and sisters.
Hugo Seelig - The school principal with whom Sara falls in love. An intelligent, well-respected man, Hugo is filled with the knowledge that Sara longs for and admires. A kind man who treats everyone with respect, Hugo puts far more value on his personal observations about people than on what others might say about them. Hugo still feels a great bond with the old country and the customs he was raised with, and he holds Reb Smolinsky’s learning in awe.
Morris Lipkin - The poet with whom Fania falls in love. A pale young man with a shabby coat and a desperate need for a haircut, Morris believes strongly in the power of both love and poetry. When Reb Smolinsky forces Fania away from him, however, he becomes bitter enough to crush Sara when she comes to him with her own dreams. Morris earns a living writing for newspapers and spends his free time at the library.
Jacob Novak - The piano player with whom Mashah falls in love. The son of wealthy parents, Jacob has grown up with money but doesn’t share his father’s prejudice against those who haven’t. Though he cares deeply for Mashah, Jacob loves music more than anything else and will temporarily sacrifice even Mashah in order to continue performing it.
Moe Mirsky - The diamond dealer Reb Smolinsky chooses to be Mashah’s husband. A charming and generous man on the surface, Moe is in fact a calculating liar who will say anything to get what he wants. Unable to hold down a regular job, he emotionally abuses Mashah and thinks nothing of dining out and wearing fancy clothes while his wife and children starve.
Zalmon - The fish peddler Reb Smolinsky chooses to be Bessie’s husband. A basically honest man who desperately needs help caring for his children, Zalmon genuinely means to give Bessie everything he promises her during their courtship. However, he is too conservative to bother finding out what might actually win her over—one of many concerns he feels is too “Americanized.”
Abe Schmukler - The cloaks-and-suits dealer Reb Smolinsky chooses to be Fania’s husband. Abe substitutes expensive presents for genuine affection or attention, both during courtship and after he and Fania return to Los Angeles. A compulsive gambler, Abe uses his wife’s appearance to show the world how affluent he is.
Max Goldstein - Abe’s partner, who comes to New York to court Sara. A self-made businessman who is derisive of the education he never had, Max is completely focused on money, possessions, and potential profit. During his time with Sara, he flaunts his wealth and worldliness instead of showing any interest in her needs.
Mrs. Feinstein - Reb Smolinsky’s second wife. Originally a widow who lived above the Smolinskys’ place, Mrs. Feinstein pretends to be a supportive woman but truthfully cares only about financial gain. She feels life owes her a certain amount of wealth, and when she doesn’t get it, she takes vengeance on everyone around her.
“The God that feeds the worms under the stone, and the fishes in the sea, will he not feed us?”Reb Smolinsky
Reb Smolinsky is an out of place character in the book because while he doesn’t want to do any work, he still wants to become rich and live a comfortable life. Reb believes with stubbornness that because he is faithful, God will reward him with goods and wealth so he doesn’t consider it necessary to work. Despite this, he still puts a great amount of pressure on his daughters and wife to earn for him enough money as to make sure that he can continue living in the same way as before.
I know I’m a fool. But I cannot help it. I haven’t the courage to live for myself. My own life is knocked out of me. No wonder Father called me the burden bearer.Bessie
Bessie is a dreamer who falls in love with Berel but because her father doesn’t approve of the relationship, they have to rethink their future together. Berel proposes to her that they should run away together and marry in secret but Bessie refuses, telling him that she can’t go over her father’s wishes. Even though she knows she will never be able to be happy at home, Bessie refuses to not listen to her father. Instead, she sacrifices willingly her happiness for the sake of making her father happy.