Study Guide

The Gentleman from Cracow

by Isaac Bashevis Singer

The Gentleman from Cracow Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Isaac Bashevis Singer develops his narrative carefully in five parts. Part 1 introduces the fictitious little Polish village of Frampol, whose peasants are poor and whose Jewish villagers struggle against extreme impoverishment. Frampol’s only asset is its children: boys who grow tall and strong and girls who bloom handsomely. Suddenly the whole area is stricken by a devastating drought that ends in a climactic hailstorm accompanied by supernatural events: “Locusts huge as birds came in the wake of the storm; human voices were said to issue from their throats.”

Then an unexpected miracle occurs. A handsome young man in his twenties, dressed in gorgeous clothes, arrives in a carriage pulled by eight horses and explains that he is a doctor and a widower from Cracow, come to Frampol to choose a new wife. He immediately provides lavish amounts of food, and the town is soon basking in its new prosperity. Only a few protest when he soon has the townspeople playing cards and gambling in violation of the accepted religious sanctions. Before long, the women and their daughters are in a frenzy of activity, all hoping to be chosen by the mysterious suitor.

In part 2, the seduction of the villagers is completed by their approval of a great ball to which all the eligible young women are to be invited. Despite protests from some of the elders that such elaborate festivities are not in keeping with Jewish tradition, the young gentleman has his way, and many lush fabrics are procured by him for the girls’ ball dresses. The stranger goes on merrily eating Sabbath puddings on weekdays and playing cards, never attending prayer. Rabbi Ozer warns the villagers that they...

(The entire section is 687 words.)