The publication of “Gimpel the Fool,” in a translation from the Yiddish by Saul Bellow, launched Isaac Bashevis Singer’s career. During the 1950’s and thereafter, his work appeared widely in English, and throughout the history of Singer studies, “Gimpel the Fool” has held a place of honor. Gimpel belongs to a brotherhood of literary characters—that of the schlemiels. In this work, Singer explores the nature of belief, which, in the modern, secular world, is often considered foolish.
Gimpel believes whatever he is told: that his parents have risen from the dead, that his pregnant fiancée is a virgin, that her children are his children, that the man jumping out of her bed is a figment of his imagination. Gimpel extends his willingness to believe to every aspect of his life, because, he explains: “Everything is possible, as it is written in the Wisdom of the Fathers, I’ve forgotten just how.”
When, on her deathbed, his wife of twenty years confesses that none of her six children are his, Gimpel is tempted to disbelieve all that he has been told and to enact revenge against those who have participated in his humiliation. His temptation is a central crisis of faith. His faith in others, who have betrayed him, is challenged, as is his faith in himself and in God, because among the stories he has believed are those pertaining to the existence of God. Gimpel’s belief has always been riddled with doubt; only after he concretizes...
(The entire section is 402 words.)