Gimpel The Fool
Gimpel the Fool and the Gimpel Gullibility: an Analysis
Gimpel the Mystic
In “Gimpel the Fool”, Gimpel’s gullibility becomes the basis for the power of faith as a theme in the text. What Isaac Bashevis Singer’s use of Gimpel’s credulity as the foundation of the short story’s theme does is redefine faith as a belief in possibility. By redefining faith as a belief in possibility, the author heightens the reader’s awareness of the power of faith as a theme in the text particularly through the use of symbolism and characterization; however, this utilization of characterization and symbolism as tools to portray the short story’s theme suggests the influences of Jewish mysticism and the author’s upbringing and personal beliefs on the formation of the power of faith as a theme in the narrative.
Jewish mysticism plays a role in the characterization in of Gimpel in “Gimpel the Fool”. In the text, Gimpel is characterized as being “easy to take in” (Singer 278). Despite being aware of the possibility that the villagers were playing yet another trick on him when they told them that his parents were rising from the dead, Gimpel accepts the claims of the villagers at face value after he reasoned with himself that something “could have very well happened” (278). In turn, this openness to the possibility of the face-value of claims aided in Gimpel’s belief that the young child seen with Elka in her shack was her brother (279), that the child born seventeen weeks into his marriage with Elka was his child but “only premature” (280-281), and that the men Gimpel found sleeping with Elka were only figments of his imagination (281, 284). The easiness of Gimpel’s acceptance of these events are a reflection of the transcendence sought in the mystical teachings of Kabbalah. This transcendence is not to infer a traditional image of God as a benevolent deity that interferes in the daily lives of mortals but of a distant and remote divinity that unveils his existence through his creation (Lee 157). The transcendence of the hidden God is called upon during Gimpel’s statement of the world being “no doubt an imaginary world, but is only once removed from the true world…God be praised; there even Gimpel cannot be deceived” (Singer 286). According to Grace Farrell Lee, this statement by Gimpel of the present world being an illusion removed from the “true world” demonstrates Gimpel’s longing for an ultimate clarity beyond deception but ,due to his inability to find it, forces Gimpel into a state of “exile” where God remains silent in the face of human questioning (157). This vision of God as being a hidden and remote divinity finds itself rooted in Lurianic Kabbalism, where God unveils his existence not through his emanations, but through his sefirot or radiance in the world; in order to make room for creation, God had to conceal himself (157). By concealing himself, God revealed the magnificence of creation which in turn leaves his very existence open to questioning; however, for Isaac Bashevis Singer, this concealment created a world “devoid of the possibility of God”(157). In turn, the author’s characterization of Gimpel as being “easy to take in” suggests that, for Gimpel, the choice to believe the villagers and his wife was not the result of an innate trait in his personality but a conscious, willful decision. For Gimpel, this willingness to always believe what he was told served a spiritual template in his quest for the “true world”, a world where he will finally witness the brilliance of God’s entirety and not glimpses of God’s radiance, as he would in the present world. If Gimpel decides to abandon this spiritual template by accepting the Spirit of Evil’s claims and seeking vengeance against the townspeople, Gimpel would have lost his opportunity to access the “true world” as insinuated by the ghost of Elka’s, “Because I was false is everything false too? I never deceived anyone but myself. I’m paying for it all, Gimpel” (Singer 285). To deny validity to the claims of the townspeople and to the possibility of his wife’s faithfulness to him, is to deny the possibility of God’s existence, which would have ended Gimpel’s opportunity to gain access to a world devoid of deception and full of clarity. If faith is defined as a belief in possibilities, then Jewish mysticism aided in this definition, and in turn influenced the characterization of Gimpel in the text.
Similarly, the author’s upbringing and personal beliefs on human nature influenced the symbolism in the narrative. Just as Gimpel grew up in a Jewish community in Eastern Europe, Isaac Bashevis Singer was raised in between a number of small, Hasidic towns where his father served as rabbi within those communities (Dickstein “Shock of the Old”; Hernandez “Isaac Bashevis Singer and the Yiddish Literary Tradition”). It is within these shtetls that the author saw the contrast between secular aspirations and the religious ideas of the Hasidic sect he was born into; through eavesdropping on disagreements through his older brother, Israel Joshua, who was a rationalist, and his pious father, Isaac Bashevis Singer witnessed the polarity between secularism and religiosity (“Shock of the Old” (42). In a similar way, the division of Elka’s characterization into two archetypes, The Sinner and The Saint, represents the polarity the author was exposed to in his youth when the author began to doubt the validity of the literalness of his religious tradition’s teachings. According to Morris Dickstein in “Shock of the Old”:
He [Isaac Bashevis Singer] began to to think of his rich Jewish mythology as not as literally true but as a set of profound metaphors, dyed into the spirit of the people, for a world that Godhad toyed with or abandoned, where lust, cruelty and deceit would always overwhelm reason and progress.(42)
This transformation from literal belief in the teachings of religion to a view that sees religion as the accumulation of profound metaphors “dyed into spirit of the people” suggests that the symbolism of the struggle between Elka’s dueling archetypes may originate from the author’s view of the negatives of human nature (like lust, malice, and deceitfulness) always overwhelming the goodness of human reason to the point of impacting progress. The author seems to have struggled with this cynicism of human nature, which, according to Morris Dickstein, was common for “writers between the wars” (42). This cynicism may have influenced Elka’s characterization to the point where Elka the Sinner is comprised solely of these negative traits of humanity and Elka the Saint is comprised of traits relating to humanity’s goodness (such as her ability to reason Gimpel out of seeking revenge against the villagers (Singer 285). In turn, Isaac Bashevis Singer unveiled the influences his upbringing and personal views on human nature contributed to the development of the symbolism of the struggle between faith and doubt that mirrored his own struggle with belief and disbelief.
Gimpel’s characterization in “Gimpel the Fool” is shaped by Jewish mysticism, particularly Lurianic Kabbalah, which aided in Isaac Bashevis Singer’s redefinition of faith as the belief in possibilities. Comparably, the author’s upbringing and the cynicism towards human nature demonstrates the influence the his upbringing and personal beliefs on the development of the symbolism in the text. Through references to Jewish mysticism in the narrative and suggestions of how the author’s upbringing and personal life may have contributed to the evolution of the symbolism of the struggle between faith and doubt, the reader is able to gain insight into the formation of the power of faith as a theme in “Gimpel the Fool”.
The Role Love Played in Idiot’s First by Bernard Malamud and Gimpel the Fool by I.b. Singer
To Be Loved by a Fool, To Love a Fool
The importance of love is a timeless theme—one might say it is the most nourishing substance to a human life—and it is intertwined within Jewish literature like the religion itself. Whether it be the love between a husband and wife, father and son, or simply a Jew and a fool, its importance is visible throughout Jewish literature. The depiction of a “fool” in Jewish literature is another common element that creates an intriguing relationship between characters and faith. The importance of love is a powerful theme in both “Idiot’s First” by Bernard Malamud and “Gimpel the Fool” by I.B. Singer. While both stories showcase the importance of love in similar ways, they also showcase it in distinct ways.
When it comes to fools in Jewish literature, there is no better example than Gimpel in “Gimpel the Fool.” Gimpel is what can be referred to as a “holy fool,” although he may dwell within questionable intellect in the eyes of other, he is the keystone of what it means to be a righteous Jew. The story even begins with Gimpel introducing himself as a fool, despite not thinking he is, in fact, a fool—illustrating the use of self-deprecation and irony. Gimpel’s community members regularly trick him, and he knows it, but Gimpel tolerates it saying, “But I’m the type that bears it and says nothing. What’s one to do? Shoulders are God, and burdens too” (Singer 20). Is this willingness to accept burden and deception valid in classifying Gimpel as a fool? Gimpel makes it clear that he does not see himself as a fool, as he chooses to believe others when they deceive him because he stands to lose nothing by believing them; this righteous behavior is a defining characteristic of Gimpel that alludes to his inexplicit piousness.
Gimpel is deceived into marrying Elka, the town prostitute, and grows to love her despite her many wrongdoings and infidelities. The love Gimpel has for Elka is challenged numerous times like when she gives birth to a child four months after their wedding or when he catches her in bed with another man multiple times. When Gimpel catches her committing adultery the first time, he decides that he will divorce her, but rather than completing the divorce and lose his faith and love for her, he convinces himself that she is not at fault or that he is hallucinating.
Gimpel and Elka go on to live a married life for twenty years until Elka becomes ill and passes away. On her death bed, Elka tries to atone for her infidelities, and Gimpel is astounded at what he hears as if he had not the slightest clue what was going on. Nevertheless, Gimpel continues to love his deceased wife and carries that love with him for the duration of his life. Whether Gimpel is indeed a fool, is debatable, but the fact that the love Gimpel demonstrated for Elka was unrelenting and real, is bolstered by the following when Gimpel sees Elka in a dream long after her death, “She is standing by the washtub, as our first encounter, but her face is shining and her eyes are as radiant as the eyes of a saint…” (Singer 23). It is clear that Gimpel’s love for Elka is untainted because he compares her to a saint, when Elka’s actions, in the eyes of other, would discount her from ever achieving such a holy plateau.
Sometime after Elka’s death, the Spirit of Evil comes to visit Gimpel and convinces him to commit a great moral sin by urinating into the dough that the townspeople would eat, as a means on revenge for all times they have deceived Gimpel. Gimpel is then visited by the deceased Elka in a dream, where she warns him of the moral sin he is about to commit and convinces him not to proceed forward; this is important because it is Elka, whom Gimpel loves dearly, that deters him—showing that love is important in his securing his salvation. Alongside Gimpel’s foolishness, his love for Elka indicates that the overall importance of love in “Gimpel the Fool” is symbolized by faith and acceptance
“Idiots First” is saturated with an overall sense of urgency as Mendel rushes to get his son, Isaac, onto a train to California. Mendel is an aging man who is close to death and Isaac seems to be mentally ill, but he is seen as a fool in the eyes of other, characters often insinuating cruel jokes about Isaac. Knowing that he does not have much time left and that Isaac cannot survive without a watchful eye, Mendel sets out to secure Isaac a train ticket to California where Mendel’s Uncle Leo resides. Mendel visits a pawn shop, a wealthy philanthropist, and a poor rabbi in an attempt to collect the necessary funds. While visiting these various individuals, it is ironic how the poor rabbi is more willing to help Mendel than the wealthy philanthropist; this juxtaposition reinforces the importance of love by showing that it is about selflessness. Once Mendel gathers enough money to buy a ticket, they make their way to the train station where they must overcome the final obstacle, death, who is personified as a man named Ginzburg. Mendel physically fights with Ginzburg, and despite being weaker than Ginzburg, Ginzburg lets Mendel and Isaac proceed to the station platform. In the end, after much struggle, Mendel securely leads Isaac onto the train—his final task complete. Only then, because of his love for Isaac, is Mendel ready to face death without any trepidation or apprehension.
Isaac and his foolishness is a definite contender in the importance in the story, but it is Mendel’s love and sacrifice for this fool that indicates the extreme importance that is placed on love. It is clear that Mendel loves Isaac for two reasons. Firstly, Mendel scarifies much and is incessant in his commitment to gather enough money for Isaac’s train ticket. Mendel pawns his watch for significantly less than what he paid for it originally; he even attempts to sell his coat and hat—literally the clothes on his back. To give up his material possessions without a second thought demonstrates the profound love Mendel has for Isaac. Secondly, Mendel refuses to die without gathering up the money for the train ticket; death is personified as chasing him through the streets, but Mendel continues to outrun it. Death even says, “You should have been dead already at midnight. I told you that yesterday” (Malamud 95) as if Mendel has the power to bargain with Death. Evidently, the overall importance of love in “Idiot’s First” is rooted within sacrifice and selflessness.
The importance of love is illustrated in both stories through common elements. For example, both stories illustrate the importance of love through the relationship of a “fool” and a Jew on a two-dimensional level. On the one hand, there is a clear relationship between the fool and the Jew in each story: Gimpel and Elka are husband and wife, and Mendel and Isaac are father and son. On the other hand, underneath that clear, outer relationship, it can be simplified as a relationship between a fool and a Jew. It is also important to note that Gimpel was able to make the conscious decision to be a fool, while Isaac was not. The two dimensions of each relationship are essential in illustrating the importance of love because it transcends the expectations of love and grounds it in a unique and often difficult to understand relationship where love is used as a means to demonstrate salvation and righteousness. Additionally, the use of mysticism is another common element that both authors use to exemplify the importance of love. The Spirit of Evil and Gimpel’s dream visions in “Gimpel the Fool” and the personification of death as a real person in “Idiots First” are elements influenced by mysticism. By using mysticism alongside love, both authors give love a mystical characteristic so that love is shown to be important and powerful beyond the limits of this world. Love is also important in both stories because it offers salvation in both stories, Gimpel’s love for Elka saves him from sinning, and Mendel’s love for Isaac gives him the power to finish his last business so he can rest in tranquility, knowing that there is nothing left for him to do.
While the importance of love is apparent in both stories, the authors use that theme in some noticeably different ways. One difference in the way the authors use the importance of love is in whether the fool is loved by someone else or if the fool loves someone else. In “Gimpel the Fool,” Gimpel loves Elka despite her wrongdoings—the fool loves someone else. In contrast, in “Idiots First,” Mendel loves Isaac—the fool is loved by someone else. This difference is significant because to be loved by a fool requires no struggle; the fool can love someone, but they do not have to love them back. In contrast, to love a fool calls for an explicit willingness and righteousness. Additionally, “Gimpel and the Fool” shows that love is strong even in death, while “Idiots First” shows that love is stronger than death. Despite loving Elka, Gimpel is unable to detain death from reaping its harvest; however, his love is resilient past her death. Mendel was able to figuratively fight off death because of the love he has for Isaac, without that love to channel his will Mendel would have stood no chance. While it can be speculated that Mendel’s love would flourish despite his death, the author leaves that interpretation open to the reader, unlike in “Gimpel the Fool” where it is a central element of the story.
In summary, “Gimpel the Fool” and “Idiots First” both demonstrate the importance of love through common elements such as the relationship between a fool and a Jew, mysticism, and salvation. Meanwhile, both show the importance of love through different elements such as the nature of the fools in both stories and the message tied to the importance of love. Love can be defined, as these stories do, with devotion, faith, acceptance, and sacrifice, but, nevertheless, its importance is paramount in these stories, and the intersecting messages of love relate back to traditional Jewish teachings.
Self-awareness, True Feelings and Wisdom of Gimpel in the Short Story Gimpel the Fool by Isaac B. Singer
Poor Gimpel; everyday life is not easy for the everyday bread maker. Every day he is the target of jokes and pranks from the townspeople, some of which are really cruel. I sympathize with poor Gimpel; I remember how it felt getting bullied and mistreated like Gimpel. I know how it felt to be mistreated in such a way. Later on, he is betrayed by his own wife, Elka for numerous infidelities. Just because Gimpel lets all the townspeople screw around with him and Elka lie to him constantly, does that really make him a fool? Is Gimpel really any bit dopey, incompetent, or lack moral thought? Singer portrays Gimpel as a fool in his story, “Gimpel the Fool,” but he is truly not because he shows self-awareness, true feelings, and even wisdom.
Does somebody who is fully aware of his surroundings and has an understanding of what is going on around him, make him a fool? Showing self-awareness does not make Gimpel a fool because he is able to recognize himself individually from others surrounding his environment. Gimpel shows this throughout the story; by explaining how he is aware that he is being pranked by the townspeople. “And I like golem believed everyone” (1356). Gimpel shows understanding that he is being pranked and is able to convince everyone that he does in fact believe them. “Second I had to believe when the whole town came down on me! If I ever dared to say, “Ah, you’re kidding!” there was trouble. People got angry. “What do you mean! You want to call everyone a liar?” (1356). Gimpel is also aware that if he was to rebuff anything he was told in any way, people would scold him. He feels he had no other choice to play along and believe every word he is told, much rather than face any kind of consequence. Gimpel avoids this at all costs. He showed us that he carefully assessed the situation and knew exactly how to handle it. He played along with all the tricks he was told. Just like Gimpel, I would sometimes allow people to tell me whatever they wanted and pretend to agree in hopes that they would just back down and stop. I knew if I argued, I only would create a scene. So I simply just played along, and never once felt like a fool for doing it. This is exactly what Gimpel thinks.
Singer indicates that Gimpel expresses his true feelings, which is way beyond the expectations of a fool. Showing no emotion for loved ones or secretly hiding feelings is a real fool. Furthermore, what makes someone far from a fool is having a big enough heart to exhibit love for children, whether they be his own or not. Seventeen weeks after their marriage, Elka had a child and insisted that it was Gimpel’s, which he at first refused to believe, but later, “he discovered that he loves the child and the child loves him.” (Geimer, par 3). He may not have fathered any of the children, but he was a loving father-like figure and raised them like they were his own. There are men in real life like Gimpel, who get into relationships, or even marry women who have already had children from previous relationships or marriages. Although the men were aware of their lover’s actual past, unlike Gimpel, but both Gimpel and men in real life show love to them and are proud to call them their children, and support them by working long hours whether or not they knew they weren’t the biological father, because men like Gimpel have a big heart. Now what scenarios here make man a real fool? How about somebody who just abandons those kinds of responsibilities and wants nothing to do with children, whether they be his or not? Or even worse, someone who is cruel enough to abuse children? We all have heard plenty of stories on the news where men are arrested and face trial for abuse, sexual assaults, or murder of their girlfriend’s child. Besides making him a coward, that truly makes him a fool. Gimpel clearly is not that kind of person. Instead he is a loving father, even though he is not actually the father. It shows biological or not, true men love and support children. Gimpel is a true man, and a true man is not a fool.
Gimpel also tries to show his true feelings for Elka when they are married. In a marriage, you two vow to love each other till death do you part, but obviously Gimpel and Elka’s marriage did not go that way. Gimpel loves his wife, or at the very least makes an effort to, despite the number of blows Elka gives him throughout the story. “His desire to indulge her, his outpouring of affection, which he obviously has an immense store and can which he can afford to expand unreturned, makes him reluctant to deprive himself of the happiness of her prescence-” (Goonetilleke, par 6). Even before being officially married, Elka first deceived him about her virginity. When he found Elka was, “Both a widow and divorced (1357),” he illustrates his feelings by saying, “It was a black moment for me.” He shows that clearly it was devastating for him to find out his new wife was not a virgin after all. But it does not end there. Up until her death, throughout most of their 20 year marriage, Elka committed numerous infidelities and gave birth to six children, none of which Gimpel fathers. She was able to manipulate Gimpel into thinking he was the father, despite no intimacy between them.
There was always some excuse each time Gimpel attempted to make his way to the bed. Elka always claimed to have something wrong, being a headache or her monthly. One night, everything changed when Gimpel comes home after the oven burst at the bakery and explains, “I went up to the bed and things suddenly turned black.” Next to Elka lay a man’s form. Another in my place would have made an uproar, enough noise to rouse the whole town – (1359).” Gimpel finds out that Elka betrayed him. It must have been devastating to come home and find your wife sleeping with another man, and would walk on her a second time also. What is even more cruel, is that Elka denies everything. It does not even matter that Gimpel clearly saw with his own eyes what Elka was doing. Regardless of following the rabbi’s advice to divorce her, he does not, and he even ends up forgiving Elka on her death bed when she finally confessed everything and begged Gimpel for forgiveness. After her death, he did have his period of mourning, which illustrates he really did love Elka despite her betrayal. Gimpel is definitely not a fool for being honest with his feelings.
Gimpel shows his wisdom despite no matter how much Singer, the townspeople and Elka portray him as a fool. “His wisdom lies in his forethought and his realistic acceptance of the world as it is” (Goonetilleke, par 3). Showing wisdom is showing your understanding and sharing your knowledge to those around you in any way possible. A fool completely misses that concept. Gimpel first shows his wisdom by knowing he is better off believing what he is told, much rather than raise conflict for trying to disregard everything. “In the first place, everything is possible” (1356). It is towards near the end of the story where his wisdom matters the most. One night after Elka’s death, the Spirit of Evil comes and tells Gimpel to get revenge on the townspeople for all those years of deception. How to go about it? “Accumulate a bucket of urine every day and night and pour it into the dough. Let the sages of Frampol eat filth (1363).” Now he almost went through with it, but one night he has an epiphany when his late wife Elka berates him for what he is about to do, and informs him that all wrong she had done in her life, she really only wronged herself. So if he carries out revenge, Gimpel is really only going to wrong himself too, so Gimpel has come to his senses and disposes of the bread. From there, and after leaving Frampol, his knowledge only blossoms more and later on as he gets older he has grown a full understanding of life.
Gimpel, the not so fool after all, shows who he really is by showing his self-awareness by understanding everything around him and coming to terms and accepts all the came his way. He was not afraid to exhibit true feelings. From loving children you that were not biologically yours, to forgiving years of deception from a spouse expresses a significant stand. All that came his way is the reason for his wisdom. Without it, it never would have made Gimpel who he truly is, and gain such an outstanding perception on life.
Gimpel the Fool: A Critical Analysis of the Short Story by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Gimpel the Fool: A Formal Analysis
Many rhetorical devices and other formal features exist within Gimpel the Fool to make it an engaging and effective work. A few such tools include the use of rhymes, references to animals, biblical allusions, foreshadow, and color. The author employs these various tools to create certain effects within the work, which lead the reader to draw specific meanings and morals from the story. Through this use of formal tools, including rhetoric, Isaac Singer, the author, explicates the idea that it is far more rewarding to be innocent, though gullible throughout one’s life than to be unkind, and that those who make others feel ashamed are the real fools.
One of the first rhetorical devices found in Gimpel the Fool is the use of rhymes. The first sentence ends with the word “fool”, as does the next. The fourth sentence ends with the word “school,” and the fifth sentence ends with “fool.” The tenth sentences, just two lines later, ends with the word “school” as well. In this paragraph, Gimpel, the main character, is speaking. The first effect of this use of rhymes is simply to make Gimpel sound like a fool, as the townspeople consider him to be. The word “fool” refers both to one who is unintelligent and most often gullible, and to a person, such as a court jester, who makes jokes and is made fun of for others’ entertainment. Court jesters often employ rhymes to makes their jokes seem funnier. Gimpel’s use of rhymes in this paragraph compares Gimpel to this kind of fool.
This rhyming scheme also has an ironic effect. The two words that rhyme, as aforementioned, are “fool” and “school.” The use of rhymes, here, creates a direct juxtaposition between the two words—one who is unintelligent, or foolish, and one who has gone to school. Gimpel specifically states that he doesn’t think of himself as a fool. It is also worth noting that throughout the story, Gimpel is the only person specifically mentioned as having gone to school. Everyone else in the town simply mocks Gimpel and embarrasses him. As the Rabbi in the story says, “It is…better to be a fool all your days than for one hour to be evil…. He who causes his neighbor to feel shame loses Paradise himself,” (Singer 80). Although Gimpel is gullible and is considered a fool, this use of rhymes drives the idea that Gimpel is the only person in town who is smart enough to treat others with kindness.
The next formal feature of the story is reference to animals. Throughout the work, various townspeople are described either by being directly compared to animals or by making animal sounds. In the first paragraph the gang that teased Gimpel “hee-hawed, stomped and danced…” thus, being compared to donkeys. Paragraph five describes the laughter of some of the townspeople as “cat music.” Later in the story, Gimpel describes his wife as a “sleeping mite,” and her lover as making the sounds of a “slaughtered ox.” The only time at which Gimpel refers to himself as an animal in when he says, “Enough of being a donkey…Gimpel isn’t going to be a sucker all his life. There’s a limit even to the foolishness of a fool like Gimpel,” (Singer 83). While donkeys are known for being rather stupid, here Gimpel explicitly says that donkeys are suckers and fools, thus showing exactly what the author imagines the townspeople to be when Gimpel compares them to donkeys earlier on in the story.
The effect of all these references to animals shows just how inhumane the townspeople are. In the way they treat Gimpel, they are more like donkeys, cats, arachnids, and dying oxen than humans. Through this rhetorical device, Singer suggests that anyone who treats another human unkindly and causes them to feel embarrassed is no better than an animal. Thus these references progress Singer’s intended moral of the story, that it is better to be foolish than to be unkind.
Biblical allusions add another element of meaning to Gimpel the Fool. When approaching Elka to ask her to marry him, Gimpel says, “I went to her clay house, which was built on the sand…” (Singer 80). This is a reference to Matthew 7:24-27, the story of the wise man who built his house on a rock, and the foolish man who built his house on the sand. The author here compares Elka to the foolish man, as her house is built on sand. Throughout the entire story, Elka treats Gimpel as if he is a fool. She lies to him about her infidelity and causes him to doubt everything he saw and knew to be true. In this biblical allusion, the author explains that Elka is, in fact, the fool, and not Gimpel.
Elka’s house, which is built of clay on the sand, is also a reference to Job 4:19 where it states, “How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth?” (King James Bible, Job 4.19). Through this allusion, Singer explains that Elka’s foundation, or her moral standing, is “crushed before the moth,” or incredibly unsteady and unreliable.
Through both of these biblical allusions, Singer adds more evidence to the moral of his story. He proves that while Gimpel is gullible, Elka is the one who is foolish. She built her life on very shaky ground, causing others to feel shame and embarrassment. Thus, Singer continues the concept that those who treat others with unkindness are the real fools, while those who are innocent, although gullible, are much better off.
The fourth formal feature of the text is foreshadowing. Throughout the story, Singer uses foreshadowing numerous times to foretell the end of the story. One example is the biblical allusion just mentioned. In both scriptural references, the house built on the sand, or dust, does not end well. It either gets washed away or crushed by a moth. Since the house symbolizes the owner’s moral standing, it is clearly foreshadowed that Elka will die and her fate will not be a happy one. Her life was full of deceit and unkindness, and thus, at the end of the story, she was turning black, paying for her sins, as Gimpel dreamed he saw her in the afterlife.
Another occurrence of foreshadowing is clear when Gimpel and Elka were being married. Singer wrote, “The ceremony was held at the cemetery gates, near the little corpse-washing hut,” (81). Not only is that a horrible place to have a wedding, but it foretells the death of Elka, and the death of the marriage as well. As is discovered later in the story, Elka dies after 20 years of marriage with Gimpel, and their marriage is plagued with infidelity and unhappiness, resulting in Gimpel abandoning Elka’s children after she dies.
Both of these instances of foreshadowing combine to prove that it is better to be like Gimpel—innocent and gullible, than like Elka—deceitful and unkind. Elka died, and then was punished in the afterlife for her mortal sins. Because of her, her marriage was unhappy and did not end well at all. Through these fictional events, Singer explains that unkind people are rewarded with suffering, and though the innocent often have to endure suffering, they are rewarded in heaven.
The last rhetorical device used in Gimpel the Fool is color, and the symbolism it entails. Specifically, the colors black and white are used to convey meaning throughout the story. The first use of color is found in the second to last paragraph of section one. In describing the wedding, when the rabbi asked if the bride was a widow or a divorced woman, and the sexton said she was both, Gimpel says this was a black moment for him. Gimpel was fairly certain that Elka was not chaste, but the townspeople had convinced him otherwise; at his wedding he discovered that not only was she unchaste, but she had been both widowed and divorced, which was a source of great shame to him. In describing this as a black moment, Gimpel implies that this was a very difficult and depressing time for him—his reputation was now ruined, and he was married to a woman who was unholy.
The next time the color black is used it describes the moment after Gimpel finds his wife cheating on him with another man. Just as the first instance with the color black, this is a very depressing moment for Gimpel. In his culture, the man was supposed to be the lord and master of his house. His wife’s infidelity throws Gimpel’s role as lord and master of the house into question. The next time the color black is found, it is under the same circumstances of infidelity—Gimpel finds Elka sleeping with yet another man. The third time the color black is used, it describes Elka as Gimpel sees her in the afterlife in a dream. Her face had turned black, signifying her unworthiness and guilt. Each time the color black is used, it describes Elka and her sins regarding chastity. This again builds on Singer’s main concept that those who are unkind and make others feel like fools—just like Elka did in convincing Gimpel she was innocent—will suffer far more than those who are innocent and gullible.
The second color used is white. This color is only found twice in the entire story. It is first used to describe Elka’s lips immediately after her death. When a person dies, the blood recedes from directly under the skin because the blood is no longer circulating, thus making the skin appear white. However, the use of the color white, here, is also symbolic. Elka’s death means that Gimpel is finally free from her abuse and infidelity. The second use of “white” is found near the end of the story when Gimpel says, “After many years I became old and white…” (Singer 88). While this refers to the color of Gimpel’s hair as he aged, it also symbolizes his purity. He spent the last years of his life telling stories to children, remaining the innocent “fool” he had always been, though wiser and more understanding. This whiteness represents his purity as he reached the point at which he could go to heaven and live with Elka in happiness forever. This proves the concept that those who are innocent shall be rewarded.
Isaac Singer’s use of formal rhetorical devices adds meaning to his story beyond what is found at the surface. It constructs the concept that the innocent, though often taken advantage of, are rewarded far more than any who treat others unkindly and make them feel ashamed. This moral gives substance to Gimpel the Fool and teaches a valuable lesson.
Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer: Literary Analysis
Although Gimpel did not die a fool he lived his life primarily as a fool. Singers use of “Gimpel the Fool” demonstrated two lower levels of the human scale. The first is the cowards ability to justify to himself the reasoning behind his behavior. The second is the crowds ability to pick out the weakling and exploit him for their own amusement. Gimpel proved he was a fool by all that he did. He allowed himself to be cornered, prodded, and teased yet he never stood up for himself or what he knew to be the truth. He was forced into a life created for the merriment of the villagers and refused to live a life made by him (100). Further he was guilty of blindly loving a woman who would never treat him as a human being. Gimpel did not think of himself as a fool but every reaction betrayed his lie to himself. Gimpel did not make his own way through life and allowed others to persuade his every thoughts. When the voice of reason or logic presented itself, Gimpel chose to ignore common sense. Gimpel was a fool despite his self-denial.
As a necessity of his community Gimpel served the purpose of bread maker and as in all societies he served also as the scapegoat. Gimpel could have been an integral part of his society but instead he was untrue to himself and he was lost. The townspeople treated Gimpel much like the court jesters of the renaissance period, turning the baker into the village harlequin. Although the target of many pranks and antics, they were not directed at him for intentional harm. He was the target though due to his accessibility and convenience. Instead of seeking Gimpel out for his talents as the baker, Gimpels neighbors sought him out to entertain themselves by ridiculing his naïve nature. The baker was not naïve and when the towns people came with their lies and pranks, Gimpel knew what they were saying was not true (99). The village jester chose to be laughed at as opposed to cause harm or offense. Possessing tact is an asset but Gimpel defined tact as having no opinion but what the villagers gave him. Gimpel seemed content living the life prepared for him by the villagers. Gimpel reacted to what was provided to him and never acted on his own. Throughout his life he was provided with numerous opportunities to evolve and rise above the taunting and the meaningless existence in which he was embroiled Gimpel became a product of his environment. A fool mocked by all.
Gimpel related to the reader his way of living in his society. “I had to believe . . . If I ever dared to say, Ah, youre kidding there was trouble” (99). All cultures and societies have their cruel side and people are expected to cope but all creatures of these societies have their limits. Limits of pain, pleasure, and tolerance. Unless a person is not aware he is the subject of ridicule he will break when his limits are pressed. Gimpel did not appear to have the limits, which inhabit human nature. Gimpel proved he was capable of emotion during the absence from his wife Gimpel “felt it all very bitterly. A longing took me, for her and for the child” (103). Gimpel loved his child as his own and loved his wife for that. The emotions Gimpel felt prove he was human. However, he was to half-witted to realize he was not feeling all the consciousness inherent to his relationship. Gimpel further experienced the human emotion of cowardice. By demonstrating his firm grasp of this base human emotion he often invited himself for further ridicule and gibes at the hands of his tormentors. Not once standing up for himself and becoming his own person created the imbecile, which Gimpel was.
The impelled lifestyle of Gimpel involved loving a woman who could never love him and who continuously mistreated him. Love may be blind but it is not dead. Love has a keen sense of awareness, which allows people to understand and desire one another. Elka had no love for Gimpel yet he convinced himself he loved Elka, despite her caustic words and devious nature. Even in her death when Elka asked for Gimpels forgiveness Elka does not feel remorse for Gimpels misconceptions but instead wants “to go clean to my Maker” (106). On the evening of their union Elka did not even wish to consummate the ceremony, yet bore a child four months later. Elka performed her duties as Gimpels wife only by providing him with children. Unfortunately none of which belonged to him. Even a person secure in his relationship with a woman would have to doubt the validity of the alliance. Secure and blissfully ignorant Gimpel lived with Elka and her lies for twenty years.
There was a constant in Gimpels life other than the ugly banter and deceptions. The rabbi was someone Gimpel could go to when he needed help. The rabbi, considered the local fountain of wisdom, could be trusted for information and support. Even with the assistance provided by the rabbi, Gimpel could not pull free of his namesake. Gimpel refused to heed the advice of the rabbi even knowing the rabbi had never said an unkind word. When the rabbi told Gimpel to divorce his wife, Gimpel stayed with her despite all the shortcomings he had just described to the bishop (103). Any other citizen would have obeyed the rabbis word, but not Gimpel who lived his life in a fantasy world created by others minds.
A man who had designed his own life could not have fallen for the duplicity presented by his society. Through trickery and deceit the townspeople shaped Gimpel into a fool. A lack of fortitude and individual thought created a simpleton. His wife and the towns people took advantage of poor foolish Gimpel. While he might have gained wisdom towards the end of his life Gimpel lost the respect entitled to all human beings. Gimpel worked hard and acquired money and his own business but he could have gained more had he not chose to be the village jester.
Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Gimpel the Fool: First Paragraph Analysis
The Power of Faith in “Gimpel the Fool”
The first paragraph of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Gimpel the Fool” introduces readers to Gimpel, a bread baker living in the town of Frampol. Being prone to credulity, Gimpel is given the moniker “Gimpel the Fool” by the townspeople who find enjoyment in playing tricks on the protagonist in order to test the limits of his gullibility (Singer 278). Through the use of characterization and symbolism Gimpel’s trustingness becomes the foundation for expressing the power of faith as a theme in the text.
For instance, the author uses the characterization of Gimpel to define faith. As Gimpel recounts occasions when the townspeople tricked him, he says that he knew “very well that nothing had happened but something could have happened” (278). Gimpel’s willingness to believe in the townspeople despite his initial skepticism suggests that faith is a belief in possibilities. This suggestion is more apparent during Gimpel’s interactions with Elka. After Elka claims that the child born four months after their wedding was Gimpel’s premature son, Gimpel is initially skeptical (280). Gimpel’s skepticism of the child’s paternity remains until he talks to the schoolmaster who asserts that the “same thing happened to Adam and Eve, and there is not a woman on Earth who is not a granddaughter of Eve” (281). This renewed trust in Elka continues during Gimpel’s brief separation from his wife when Gimpel states to the rabbi that he “may have seen a shadow, or a mannekin, instead of a man” sleeping in bed with his wife (282). By choosing to doubt himself rather than the goodness of his wife, Gimpel is not choosing to live in denial of his wife’s infidelity, but choosing to believe in the possibility that he may have hallucinated the figure in bed with her. This use of Gimpel’s characterization to define faith as a belief in possibilities brings awareness to the power of faith as the narrative’s theme.
Similarly, the use of the characterization of Elka is used but not to bring attention to the short story’s theme. The author uses the characterization of Elka, specifically the two archetypes she represents, to symbolize the struggle between faith and doubt. The first archetype, Elka the Sinner, is lustful (“I see but the apprentice lying there beside Elka” (283), greedy (“Don’t let them think they can take advantage of me. I want a dowry of fifty guilders” (279), and deceitful (“I have to go clean to my Maker, and so have to tell you that the children are not yours” (285). Elka the Sinner does not seem to care much for Gimpel based on her numerous infidelities and incessant lying; however, she is contrasted with Elka the Saint who exists solely in Gimpel’s mind. Elka the Saint is the virtuous and faithful Elka Gimpel believed her to be (“What is there to forgive?” You have always been a good and faithful wife” (284); and, she serves ultimately as Gimpel’s savior from following the path of darkness ( “You fool! Because I was false does that mean everything else is false too? I never deceived anyone but myself and now I am paying for it” (285). These two Elkas serve as opposite ends of Gimpel’s struggle between faith and doubt. Elka the Sinner is the embodiment of doubt Gimpel has towards the essential goodness of people. When Elka the Sinner tells Gimpel that he was hallucinating when he saw the bakery apprentice in bed with her, Gimpel says, “What do you mean? The apprentice. You were sleeping with him” (284). By questioning her, Gimpel is doubting his faith in the goodness of humanity; and, this doubt is pronounced more when the Spirit of Evil visits him shortly after his wife’s death when Gimpel asks the Spirit of Evil, “How can I deceive the world?” (285). In contrast, Elka the Saint is the embodiment of Gimpel’s faith in the goodness of people. When she reminds Gimpel that her deception does not mean that the world is deceptive, she is reminding Gimpel to maintain his faith by not seeking vengeance (285). If Gimpel gave into his doubt of Elka (or humanity) and sought vengeance on the townspeople, he would have lost his soul (“A false step now and I’d lose Eternal Life. But God gave me His help” (285). By giving into the belief that Elka was always a good person, and trusting her just as he had always trusted her, Gimpel retained his innocence and his faith. This symbolizing of the struggle between doubt and faith suggests that faith can redeem anyone who has it, just as through Gimpel’s faith in Elka redeemed her. Through this use of symbolism, the author maintains the power of faith as the theme in the text.
The author uses Gimpel’s characterization to define faith as a belief in possibility. By using Gimpel’s characterization to define faith, the author brings awareness to the power of faith as the theme of the text. To maintain this awareness, the author uses the symbolism of the struggle between doubt and faith to highlight the redemptive qualities of individuals who possess faith. Through this use of characterization and symbolism, the reader gains a broader understanding in what it means to have faith.
The Concept of Repentance in Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Gimpel the Fool
Through clever characterization, underlying symbolism, and an in-depth point of view, the short story “Gimpel the Fool”, written by Isaac Bashevis Singer, clearly reinforces the age-old concept that repentance, along with good deeds, will ultimately be rewarded in time. Gimpel’s whole-hearted yet gullible characterization weaves an important pattern in the story’s meaning. The deeply embedded religious connotation and use of dynamic symbols both aid in allowing the reader to pick out the lesson learned in the story. With the help of the first person point of view, the reader can better understand the main character and his thought processes, tying all three fictional elements together to help the reader interpret the true significance of the story.
Singer uses a couple of different ways to create the character Gimpel. Although Gimpel appears to be a fool, he is really a wise man and can even be characterized as a saint. He shows he is wise by loving the children that are not his, is an avid believer in his religion, and is not swayed by the temptations of the Devil. First of all he uses what other characters say about him and do to him. The other kids at school say he is a fool, and take advantage of him for their own entertainment. This is not used to make him into a foolish character, but rather a victim, a sympathetic character. He has an honest personality as well, and it shines through when introduces himself to us at the beginning. He doesn’t even try to make it sound as if it was even hard to fool him. He just tells it the exact way that it took place; they told him a lie and he didn’t even question it, he just believed it. “In the first place, everything is possible, as it is written in the Wisdom of the Fathers.” He doesn’t try to make the lie sound any more believable than it was either; he is very honest and straightforward. He also gives your insight on his thought process, which is very open and unguarded. After his second example of “foolishness” Gimpel says, “I was no weakling. If I slapped someone he’d see all the way to Cracow. But I’m really not a slugger by nature. I think to myself, ‘Let it pass.’ So they take advantage of me.” These are not words of a fool, but they are words of a very trusting, wise, and reliable character.
Next, Gimpel’s descriptions of himself do a big part of creating his character. In the opening lines he says, “I don’t think myself a fool. On the contrary.” And to support that, in the last few sentences, he acknowledges the fact that the kids are taking advantage of him. It really makes Gimpel out to be not a fool, but into some kind of martyr. He may look and act like a fool because of his innocence and naivete, but it’s his good heart that makes him never want to let anyone suffer, not even himself. The rejection of the devil is shown by his beliefs in God, along with the references of him visiting and consulting his rabbi and paying respect and homage to his church. Also his good and understanding heart, and the fact that he forgives everyone of what they did to him, reveals his god-like temperament. The fact that he learns of his wife’s unfaithfulness and that his children are bastards and not his own and still supports and loves them undoubtedly reveals another one of his saint-like characteristics
Thirdly, the actions of the narrator, him being a nonviolent person, make him out to be above that kind of behavior, which doesn’t make Gimpel a fool at all. It makes the townspeople the fools. The main reason why Gimpel is portrayed as a fool is because the fantastic stories like “Gimpel, there is a fair in heaven”, “Gimpel, the rabbi gave birth to a calf in the seventh month”, and “Gimpel, a cow flew over the roof and laid brass eggs” that the townspeople are constantly telling him and that, more importantly, he continues to believe. He reveals that his wife physically abuses him and he endures the brunt of her attacks, along with her “brothers” assaults, withstanding them both with compassion and patience.
Throughout the story, many “normal” figures can be represented with much more in-depth and symbolic meanings. Take, for example, when Gimpel decides to leave Frampol. His leaving can be interpreted on two levels. The first is obvious, that he needs a change of scenery or perhaps simply wants to get away. When taking a closer look, it represents a cleansing he is undergoing, an emotional revival and that he is no longer a fool that can be taken advantage of at will. “I wandered all over the land, and good people did not neglect me.” Strangers are accepting him at the end, ironically, a feeling he hadn’t felt his whole life. “It is many years since I left Frampol, but as soon as I shut my eyes again I am there. And whom do you think I see? Elka. I weep and implore, ‘Let me be with you,’ and she consoles me and tells me to be patient. The time is nearer than far.” Within this scenario Elka, another dynamically changing character throughout the book, is also finally accepting Gimpel. She represents an immoral but repentant sinner. Ironically it is Gimpel, the saint-like figure, that saves her soul by being understanding, patient, and continually loving towards her. His illegitimate children represent the sins his wife wrought throughout her life and symbolically when Gimpel finds out they are not his and still care for them and divide his fortune among them, Gimpel is really forgiving Elka for her sins.
“One night as I lay dreaming on the flour sacks, there came the Spirit of Evil himself”. When the Evil spirit approaches Gimpel he is, at first, persuaded to do his bidding and “punish” the townspeople for all their wrongdoings. What its really doing is showing his emotional growth when he rejects the spirit, showing that he is developing and growing and he won’t be pushed around forever. It shows he has forgiven the townspeople for their wrongdoings and torture to him and he is moving on.
The beauty of first person narration is that you get a first-hand view of what’s going through the mind of the main character. “Gimpel the Fool” does just that, giving you a behind-the-scenes tour of the mind of Gimpel. You get to see into his true character, his emotions, and his thought processes. We learn that he is forgiving when he pardons his wife for cheating on him repeatedly: “A longing took over me, for her and for the child. I wanted to be angry, but that’s my misfortune exactly, I don’t have it in me to be really angry.” We learn he is gullible and “easy to take in” from the many anecdotes told about the townspeople who attempted to “try their luck with him”: “Every woman or girl who came to bake a batch of noodles had to fool me at least once.” We learn he is submissive and willing to please when he consents to marrying the village whore and elaborates on why he doesn’t retaliate against the townspeople’s torments: “If I ever dared say, ‘Ah, you’re kidding!’ there was trouble. People got angry. What was I to do? I believed them, and hope at least that did them some good.” This example also shows his selflessness for others, his unselfish character.
We can all learn an important lesson from Gimpel. He teaches us that you get what you give, and you really shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. Singer uses techniques like well thought out characterization, intense symbolism, and a profound point of view to successfully get his point across and arrive at the meaning of his story. “Gimpel the Fool” allows us to extend beyond our limited mindsets and steadfast judgements and move into uncharted territories, places that teach us compassion, whole-hearted love, and an unbiased approach to the world around us.