« AnteriorContinuar »
THE FAT OF THE LAND!
ANZIA YEZIERSKA Glowing with the passionate idealism of the Russian immigrant who looks to America as the land of promise, and quivering with the bitterness of inevitable disillusion, Anzia Yezierska, (1885- ) until her ninth year a native of Russia, still holds to her faith in the fulfillment of the American ideal. She is poignantly aware of the tragedies that attend those of her race who, coming to our shores with high hearts, must accommodate their vision to the stern economic conditions that await them.
In "The Fat of the Land” Anzia Yezierska has convincingly pictured the squalid life of New York's Ghetto, and the tragic dilemma that is precipitated when one of the older genera. tion tries to adjust herself to the "up-town" existence of her children. The accurate transcript of life with its wealth of minor detail, and the rejection of many conventional devices admirably exemplifies the naturalistic method. Originally published in the Century Magazine in 1919, "The Fat of the Land" appeared the next year in a volume of similar stories aptly entitled Hungry Hearts.
IN AN air-shaft so narrow that you "You got to come in for the boiler could touch the next wall with your bare yourself," said Mrs. Pelz. hands, Hanneh Breineh leaned out and "Wait only till I tie my Sammy on to knocked on her neighbor's window. the high-chair he shouldn't fall on me
"Can you loan me your wash-boiler again. He's so wild that ropes won't for the clothes?” she called.
hold him.” Mrs. Pelz threw up the sash.
Hanneh Breineh tied the child in the “The boiler? What's the matter with chair, stuck a pacifier in his mouth, and yours again? Didn't you tell me you went in to her neighbor. As she took had it fixed already last week?"
the boiler Mrs. Pelz said: "A black year on him, the robber, the “Do you know Mrs. Melker ordered way he fixed it! If you have no luck in fifty pounds of chicken for her daughter's this world, then it's better not to live. wedding? And such grand chickens! There I spent out fifteen cents to stop up Shining like gold! My heart melted in one hole, and it runs out another. How me just looking at the flowing fatness of I ate out my gall bargaining with him he those chickens." should let it down to fifteen cents! He Hanneh Breineh smacked her thin, dry wanted yet a quarter, the swindler. Got lips, a hungry gleam in her sunken tuniu! my bitter heart on him for ev- eyes. ery penny he took from me for nothing!" "Fifty pounds!" she gasped. "It ain't
"You got to watch all those swindlers, possible. How do you know?" or they'll steal the whites out of your
“I heard her with my own ears. eyes,” admonished Mrs. Pelz. “You them with my own eyes. And she said should have tried out your boiler before she will chop up the chicken livers with you paid him. Wait a minute till I onions and eggs for an appetizer, and empty out my dirty clothes in a pillow- then she will buy twenty-five pounds of case; then I'll hand it to you."
fish, and cook it sweet and sour with raiMrs. Pelz returned with the boiler and sins, and she said she will bake all her tried to hand it across to Hanneh Breineh, strudels on pure chicken fat.” but the soap-box refrigerator on the win- "Some people work themselves up in dow-sill was in the way.
the world,” sighed Hanneh Breineh.
"For them is America flowing with milk 1From Hungry Hearts by Anzia Yezier- and honey. In Savel Mrs. Melker used ska. Reprinted by permission of, and by special arrangement with, Houghton Mifflin
to get shriveled up from hunger. She Company, publishers, and Anzia Yezierska,
and her children used to live on potato author.
peelings and crusts of dry bread picked 2“Dear God!"
out from the barrels; and in America she
ives to eat chicken, and apple strudels discovered a swelling lump on his forebaking in fat."
head. “Have you a quarter in your “The world is a wheel always turn- house?” she asked.
," philosophized Mrs. Pelz. "Those "Yes, I got one," replied Hanneh vho were high go down low, and those Breineh, climbing on a chair. "I got to ho've been low go up higher. Who will keep it on a high shelf where the children elieve me here in America that in Poland can't get it.”
was a cook in a banker's house? I Mrs. Pelz seized the quarter Hanneh landled ducks and geese every day. I Breineh handed down to her. ised to bake coffee-cake with cream so "Now pull your left eyelid three times hick you could cut it with a knife.” while I'm pressing the quarter, and you
"And do you think I was a nobody in will see the swelling go down." Poland ?" broke in Hanneh Breineh, Hanneh Breineh took the child again ears welling in her eyes as the memories in her arms, shaking and cooing over it f her past rushed over her. "But what's and caressing it. he use of talking? In America money is “Ah-ah-ah, Sammy! Ah-ah-ah-ah, litverything. Who cares who my father tle lamb! Ah-ah-ah, little bird! 'Ahor grandfather was in Poland? With-ah-ah-ah, precious heart! Oh, you saved yut money I'm a living dead one. My my life; I thought he was killed," gasped iead dries out worrying how to get for Hanneh Breineh, turning to Mrs. Pelz. he children the eating a penny cheaper." "Oi-i!" she sighed, "a mother's heart!
Mrs. Pelz wagged her head, a gnaw. Always in fear over her children. The ng envy contracting her features.
minute anything happens to them all life “Mrs. Melker had it good from the goes out of me. I lose my head and I day she came," she said begrudgingly. don't know where I am any more." "Right away she sent all her children to "No wonder the child fell," admonthe factory, and she began to cook meat ished Mrs. Pelz. "You should have a for dinner every day. She and her chil- red ribbon or red beads on his neck to dren have eggs and buttered rolls for keep away the evil eye. Wait. I got breakfast each morning like millionaires." something in my machine-drawer."
A sudden fall and a baby's scream and Mrs. Pelz returned, bringing the boiler the boiler dropped from Hanneh Breineh's and a red string, which she tied about the hands as she rushed into her kitchen, Mrs.
child's neck while the mother proceeded Pelz after her. They found the high- to fill the boiler. chair turned on top of the baby.
A little later Hanneh Breineh again “Gevalt! Save me! Run for came into Mrs. Pelz's kitchen, holding doctor!" cried Hanneh Breineh as she Sammy in one arm and in the other an dragged the child from under the high- apron full of potatoes. Putting the child chair. "He's killed! He's killed! My down on the floor, she seated herself on only child! My precious lamb!" she the unmade kitchen-bed and began to shrieked as she ran back and forth with peel the potatoes in her apron. the screaming infant.
"Woe to me!" sobbed Hanneh BreiMrs. Pelz
snatched little Sammy from neh. “To my bitter luck there ain't no the mother's hands.
end. With all my other troubles, the "Meshugneh! what are you running stove got broke. I lighted the fire to boil around like a crazy, frightening the the clothes, and it's to get choked with child? Let me Let me tend to smoke. I paid rent only a week ago, and him. He ain't killed yet." She hastened the agent don't want to fix it. A thunto the sink to wash the child's face, and der should strike him! He only comes
for the rent, and if anything has to be 1 An exclamation in an emergency.
fixed, then he don't want to hear noth2"Crazy !"
"Why comes it to me so hard ?" went See how frightened it looks on you." on Hanneh Breineh, the tears streaming Mrs. Pelz took the child in her arms and down her cheeks. “I can't stand it no petted it. “The poor little lamb! What more. I came into you for a minute to did it done you should hate it so?" run away from my troubles. It's only Hanneh Breineh pushed Mrs. Pelz when I sit myself down to peel potatoes away from her. or nurse the baby that I take time to "To whom can I open the wounds of draw a breath, and beg only for death." my heart?" she moaned. "Nobody has
Mrs. Pelz, accustomed to Hanneh pity on me. You don't believe me, no Breineh's bitter outbursts, continued her body believes me until I'll fall down like scrubbing
a horse in the middle of the street. Oi "Ut!' exclaimed Hanneh Breineh, ir- weh! mine life is so black for my eyes. ritated at her neighbor's silence, “what Some mothers got luck. A child gets are you tearing up the world with your run over by a car, some fall from a wincleaning ? What's the use to clean up dow, some burn themselves up with a when everything only gets dirty again ?" match, some get choked with diphtheria;
“I got to shine up my house for the but no death takes mine away." holidays."
"God from the world! stop cursing!" "You've got it so good nothing lays admonished Mrs. Pelz. "What do you on your mind but to clean your house. want from the poor children? Is it their Look on this little blood-sucker,” said fault that their father makes small wages? Hanneh Breineh, pointing to the wiz- Why do you let it all out on them?" ened child, made prematurely solemn Mrs. Pelz sat down beside Hanneh from starvation and neglect. "Could
and neglect. “Could Breineh. “Wait only till your children anybody keep that brat clean? I wash get old enough to go to the shop and eam him one minute, and he is dirty the min-money," she consoled. "Push only through ute after.” Little Sammy grew fright- those few years while they are yet small; ened and began to cry. "Shut up!" your sun will begin to shine, you will ordered the mother, picking up the child live on the fat of the land, when they to nurse it again. "Can't you see me begin to bring you in the wages each take a rest for a minute ?"
week." The hungry child began to cry at the Hanneh Breineh refused to be comtop of its weakened lungs.
forted. "Na, na, you
glutton.” Hanneh "Till they are old enough to go to the Breineh took out a dirty pacifier from shop and earn money they'll eat the head her pocket and stuffed it into the baby's off my bones,” she wailed. “If you only mouth. The grave, pasty-faced infant knew the fights I got by each meal. May. shrank into a panic of fear, and chewed be I gave Abe a bigger piece of bread the nipple nervously, clinging to it with than Fanny. Maybe Fanny got a little both his thin little hands.
more soup in her plate than Jake. Eating “For what did I need yet the sixth is dearer than diamonds. Potatoes went one?” groaned Hanneh Breineh, turning up a cent a pound, and milk is only for to Mrs. Pelz. "Wasn't it enough five millionaires. And once a week, when I mouths to feed? If I didn't have this buy a little meat for the Sabbath, the child on my neck, I could turn myself butcher weighs it for me like gold, with around and earn a few cents.” She all the bones in it. When I come to lay wrung her hands in a passion of despair. the meat out on a plate and divide it up. "Gottuniu! the earth should only take there ain't nothing to it but bones. Beit before it grows up!"
fore, he used to throw me in a piece of “Pshaw! Pshaw!" reproved Mrs. fat extra or a piece of lung, but now you Pelz. "Pity yourself on the child. Let it grow up already so long as it is here.
ot to pay for everything, even for a bone jovial. “Let us wish all our troubles on the soup.”
the Russian Czar! Let him bust with "Never mind; you'll yet come out from our worries for rent!
Let him get Il your troubles. Just as soon as your shriveled with our hunger for bread! hildren get old enough to get their work- Let his eyes dry out of his head looking ng papers the more children you got, the for work! nore money you'll have.”
"Pshaw! I'm forgetting from every"Why should I fool myself with the thing,” she exclaimed, jumping up. "It alse shine of hope? Don't I know it's must be eleven or soon twelve, and my lready my black luck not to have it good children will be right away out of school n this world? Do you think American and fall on me like a pack of wild wolves. hildren will right away give everything I better quick run to the market and see hey earn to their mother?”
what cheaper I can get for a quarter." "I know what is with you the matter," Because of the lateness of her coming, aid Mrs. Pelz. “You didn't eat yet to- the stale bread at the nearest bake-shop lay. When it is empty in the stomach, was sold out, and Hanneh Breineh had he whole world looks black. Come, to trudge from shop to shop in search of only let me give you something good to the usual bargain, and spent nearly an aste in the mouth; that will freshen you hour to save two cents. up.” Mrs. Pelz went to the cupboard In the meantime the children returned and brought out the saucepan of gefülte from school, and, finding the door locked, fish that she had cooked for dinner and climbed through the fire-escape, and enplaced it on the table in front of Hanneh tered the house through the window. SeeBreineh. “Give a taste my fish,” she ing nothing on the table, they rushed to said, taking one slice on a spoon, and the stove. Abe pulled a steaming potato handing it to Hanneh Breineh with a out of the boiling pot, and so scalded his piece of bread. "I wouldn't give it to fingers that the potato fell to the floor; you on a plate because I just cleaned out whereupon the three others pounced on it. my house, and I don't want to dirty up “It was my potato," cried Abe, blowmy dishes.”
ing his burned fingers, while with th: "What, am I a stranger you should other hand and his foot he cuffed and have to serve me on a plate yet!" cried kicked the three who were struggling on Hanneh Breineh, snatching the fish in her the floor. A wild fight ensued, and the trembling fingers.
potato was smashed under Abe's foot “Oi weh! how it melts through all the amid shouts and screams. Hanneh Breibones!” she exclaimed, brightening as she neh, on the stairs, heard the noise of ate.
"May it be for good luck to us all!" her famished brood, and topped their she exulted, waving aloft the last precious cries with curses and invectives. bite.
"They are here already, the savages! Mrs. Pelz was so fattered that she They are here already to shorten my life! even ladled up a spoonful of gravy. They heard you all over the hall, in all
“There is a bit of onion and carrot in the houses around !”. it,” she said as she handed it to her neigh- The children, disregarding her words, bor.
pounced on her market-basket, shouting Hanneh Breineh sipped the gravy drop ravenously: "Mama, I'm hungry! What by drop, like a connoisseur sipping wine. more do you got to eat?”
“Ah-h-h! a taste of that gravy lifts They tore the bread and herring out of me up to heaven!” As she disposed leis- Hanneh Breineh's basket and devoured urely of the slice of onion and carrot she it in starved savagery, clamoring for relaxed and expanded and even grew more.
"Murderers !" screamed Hanneh Brei1"Stuffed fish."
neh, goaded beyond endurance. "What eyes!"
are you tearing from me my flesh? From Tears streamed down herred, swollen where should I steal to give you more? eyes as she sobbed. “Benny! mine heart, Here I had already a pot of potatoes and mine life! Oi-i!" a whole loaf of bread and two herrings, Mrs. Pelz took the frightened baby and you swallowed it down in the wink out of the mother's arms. of an eye. I have to have Rockefeller's "Still yourself a little! See how you're millions to fill your stomachs.”
frightening your child." All at once Hanneh Breineh became "Woe to me! Where is my Benny? aware that Benny was missing. “Oi | Maybe he's killed already by a car. Marweh!" she burst out, wringing her hands be he fainted away from hunger. He in a new wave of woe, “where is Benny? didn't eat nothing all day long. GotDidn't he come home yet from school?” tuniu! pity yourself on me!"
She ran out into the hall, opened the She lifted her hands full of tragic engrime-coated window, and looked up and treaty. down the street; but Benny was nowhere “People, my child! Get me my child! in sight.
I'll go crazy out of my head! Get me my “Abe, Jake, Fanny, quick, find Benny!" child, or i'll take poison before your entreated Hanneh Breineh as she rushed back into the kitchen. But the children, "Still yourself a little!" pleaded Mrs. anxious to snatch a few minutes' play be- | Pelz. fore the school-call, dodged past her and "Talk not to me!" cried Hanneh hurried out.
Breineh, wringing her hands. “You're With the baby on her arm, Hanneh having all your children. I lost mine. Breineh hastened to the kindergarten. Every good luck comes to other people.
"Why are you keeping Benny here so But I didn't live yet to see a good day in long?" she shouted at the teacher as she my life. Mine only joy, mine Benny, is Alung open the door. "If you had my lost away from me.” bitter heart, you would send him home The crowd followed Hanneh Breineh long ago and not wait till I got to come as she wailed through the streets, leanfor him.”
ing on Mrs. Pelz. By the time she reThe teacher turned calmly and con- turned to her house the children were sulted her record-cards.
back from school; but seeing that Benny "Benny Safron? He wasn't present was not there, she chased them out in the this morning.”
street, crying: “Not here?” shrieked Hanneh Breineh. "Out of here, you robbers, gluttons! "I pushed him out myself he should go. Go find Benny !" Hanneh Breineh The children didn't want to take him crumpled into a chair in utter prostration. and I had no time. Woe is me! Where “Oi, weh! he's lost! Mine life; my litis my child ?” She began pulling her hair tle bird; mine only joy! How many and beating her breast as she ran into the nights I spent nursing him when he had street.
the measles! And all that I suffered Mrs. Pelz was busy at a push-cart, pick- for weeks and months when he had the ing over some spotted apples, when she whooping-cough! How the eyes went heard the clamor of an approaching out of my head till I learned him how to crowd. A block off she recognized Han- walk, till I learned him how to talk! neh Breineh, her hair disheveled, her And such a smart child! If I lost all clothes awry, running toward her with the others, it wouldn't tear me so by the her yelling baby in her arms, the crowd heart.” following.
She worked herself up into such a "Friend mine,” cried Hanneh Breineh, hysteria, crying, and tearing her hair, falling on Mrs. Pelz's neck, "I lost my and hitting her head with her knuckles, Benny, the best child of all my children.” that at last she fell into a faint. It took