Gimpel the Fool Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Overview

Critical reaction to "Gimpel the Fool" has been positive ever since the story first appeared in translation in the Partisan Review in 1953. It was ''Gimpel the Fool," along with the translated novel The Family Moskat (1950), that first brought Singer to the attention of American reading audiences. The story has been called a masterpiece of short fiction and has been praised for its depiction of Jewish life; its emphasis on spirituality, faith, and morality; its sympathetic portrayal of ordinary people; and its examination of universal themes. Alfred Kazin, writing in his Contemporaries, stated that "it is the integrity of the human imagination that Singer conveys so beautifully," while Paul N. Siegel noted in The Achievement of Isaac Bashevis Singer that Gimpel "has become representative of poor, bewildered, suffering humanity." Cynthia Ozick also praised Singer's talents in The New York Times Book Review: "[Singer's] tenderness for ordinary folk, their superstitions, their folly, their plainness, their lapses is a classical thread of Yiddish fiction, as well as the tree trunk of Singer's own Hasidic legacy—love and reverence for the down-to-earth."

Critical reaction to Singer's fiction as a whole has also been largely favorable. He was an internationally renowned literary figure who was widely considered the foremost contemporary Yiddish writer. Although he lived in the United States for more than fifty years, Singer wrote almost exclusively in Yiddish. Some critics have faulted Singer for occasional sentimentality and for exploring repetitious themes, but he is widely admired for his powers of evocation, his talents as a stylist, and his renderings of the Yiddish language. In 1978, Singer was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his ''impassioned narrative art which, with roots in a Polish-Jewish cultural tradition, brings universal conditions to life." Singer's reputation rests largely upon his short stories, most notably "Gimpel the Fool.''