Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A “gilgul” is the phenomenological occurrence of souls shifting from person to person. In the back of a taxicab, a transitory vehicle, Charles experiences his transformation into a Jewish man. In several of Nathan Englander’s stories, alienated characters seek to be part of a larger group yet remain isolated. Rather than the isolation associated with alienation, Charles—the protagonist in “The Gilgul of Park Avenue”—experiences a disconnection from his earlier life. With this disruption, he experiences a dynamic fear of becoming alienated from his Christian wife, Sue.

Charles has always been forthright with Sue, even when he was trying to tease her about his fidelity. Sue tolerated his teasing about running off with his secretary; this reflected the openness of their relationship. The theme of male/female relationships is strongly explored through the interaction of Charles, who has lived for fifty-five years as a nonpracticing Christian, and his wife of twenty-seven years, Sue. Even though Charles experiences a miraculous change and tries to share his newly discovered reality with others, including the cabdriver, his psychologist, and a rabbi from the R-HMJRC, he does not feel comfortable discussing his new experience.

Situational humor is threaded throughout the story. First, Charles’s transformation in a taxicab into a believer of a completely different religion is inexplicable. Second, Sue has just had a root canal and is...

(The entire section is 455 words.)