In the story "Gimpel The Fool," how are the townspeople foolish?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Elka, the town prostitute, acts foolishly by getting pregnant and then trying to pass off the man's child as Gimpel's. In other words, a fool is treating someone else like a fool. Gimpel in turn marries Elka, and when her illegitimate child pops out only four months after they're married, Gimpel is gullible enough to believe his wife's explanation that the child is merely premature. Fortified by her husband's willful ignorance, Elka goes on to have yet more children, none of whom are Gimpel's.

Eventually Elka realizes how foolish she's been and begs Gimpel's forgiveness as she lies on her deathbed, but the damage has been done. Elka's merely been continuing a long-standing local tradition, whereby the townsfolk feel the need to treat Gimpel like a complete idiot every chance they get. Elka's serial infidelity is really no different to the behavior of those cruel individuals who used to come into the baker's shop when Gimpel was younger and tell him, among other things, that the Messiah had come and that the dead were rising from their graves.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The towns people are foolish because they take strange pleasure in playing jokes on Gimpel and making him look gullible and ignorant.  They don't see the goodness of his heart, nor can they appreciate how or why he puts up with everything that happens to him.

"It is not that he simply believes the outrageous things the villagers tell him, but rather, that he chooses to do so. For example, when the villagers tell Gimpel that his father and mother "have stood up from the grave," Gimpel states: "To tell the truth, I knew very well that nothing of the sort had happened."

The towns people use Gimpel, they laugh at him, having fun at his expense seems to be ok with them.  

"The rabbi tells Gimpel, "It is written, better to be a fool all your days than for one hour to be evil. You are not a fool. They are the fools. For he who causes his neighbor to feel shame loses Paradise himself."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial