Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Isaac Bashevis Singer is known for stories that re-create the lost world of Jewish life in the Polish ghetto. This is the setting of “Gimpel the Fool,” but the story also presents a gently humorous psychological study as well as a thematic analysis of the nature of reality. From the very beginning, Gimpel the narrator cannot quite understand why he is treated as a fool. That he is narrating his own story makes it unlikely that one should consider him foolish in the ordinary sense. He is only partially a naïve narrator; although he is constantly tricked and deceived by others, Gimpel does show an awareness of what they are doing. His apparent “foolishness” consists in his taking the line of least resistance to avoid their teasing: He simply decides that it is easier to believe what he is told than to make an issue of it. In addition, his faith in God makes him believe that many things are possible, so he convinces himself of the improbable. In a sense, his simplicity and naïveté protect him from harm; his narration shows him to be largely oblivious of the viciousness of others’ pranks, and this apparent gullibility leads to relative contentment in his life.
The rabbi’s comment to Gimpel that the others are the real fools, combined with Gimpel’s epiphany on hearing Elka’s words in the dream, show that he may not be the complete fool that others have made him out to be. After his temptation by the Spirit of Evil and Elka’s advice to him,...
(The entire section is 406 words.)
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Devils and imps play very significant roles in four stories included in this collection. "The Mirror," "The Gentleman from Cracow," "From the Diary of One Not Born," and "The Unseen" all concern devils and imps who corrupt and betray Jews, destroying them by leading them on the path to sin and away from God. The turning away from God's teachings leads ultimately to their destruction. In "The Mirror," a bored housewife (Zirel) in Krashnik, duped by the first person narrator (a mischievous imp), accompanies him through the mirror to another world. Corrupted by the imp, she leaves her husband, as well as her Jewish religion, traveling to an irreligious and evil place. The imp orders her to "throw the prayer book into the rubbish and spit on the mezuzah [a small box containing scripture that Jews place by the front door of their houses]." She turns away from her Jewish faith and lapses into sin. She discovers, however, that the devil does not cure her of her boredom any more than her husband or God does. In fact, devils start to tear out tufts of her beautiful hair. She wants to return through the mirror but is trapped forever. The honest citizens of Frampol are duped, likewise, by the Gentleman from Cracow. This rich and enigmatic gentleman overwhelms the impoverished Jews of Frampol with his wealth, using his power to coerce the Jews into gambling (playing cards), conducting an elaborate ball, disregarding the advice of matchmakers, and marrying by lots (disobeying the...
(The entire section is 968 words.)
Faith is one of the primary themes in "Gimpel the Fool." Despite being teased and deceived mercilessly by the other villagers as well as by his wife Elka, Gimpel maintains his faith in life, in others, and in God. When Elka continues to nag and bully him, Gimpel simply says, "I'm the type that bears it and says nothing. What's one to do? Shoulders are from God, and burdens too." Gimpel has consciously decided to choose faith over skepticism; through his faith he finds consolation and peace.
Acceptance and Belonging
Singer also examines the meaning of acceptance in the story. Gimpel is never accepted or appreciated by the villagers for what he is: a kind, compassionate, and honest man. But when he leaves Frampol to become a storyteller, he is considered to be wise and is treated well by those he meets. This suggests that acceptance and belonging is temporal: a person may not be accepted in one environment but is welcomed and respected in another.
Gimpel's acceptance of life, despite his hardships, is also a major theme in the story. He is constantly heckled and mistreated, but he accepts the limitations of and negative qualities in others. He also embraces life, appreciating what he does have: a wife, children, and a successful bakery. Instead of getting angry and vengeful, Gimpel simply states, "One can't pass through life unscathed, nor expect to." While Gimpel does momentarily contemplate revenge on the...
(The entire section is 454 words.)