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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 711

Gimpel, who has had the reputation of being a fool since his school days, is the narrator of his own story. He relates how the other children used to tease and play tricks on him, and how, because he did not want to endure their taunts when he expressed disbelief...

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Gimpel, who has had the reputation of being a fool since his school days, is the narrator of his own story. He relates how the other children used to tease and play tricks on him, and how, because he did not want to endure their taunts when he expressed disbelief in what they said, he made the decision to believe them—in the hope, as he says, that it would do them some good.

An orphan, Gimpel was apprenticed to a baker, and all of his customers continued to tease him by telling him outlandish things that had supposedly happened. Gimpel says that he knew the unlikelihood of these tales, but again, rather than argue with his customers, he took the attitude that anything is possible and was again taunted for his gullibility. When Gimpel asked the rabbi’s advice, the rabbi told him that the others were the fools, not he, and that it is better to act like a fool for all of one’s life than to be evil for a single hour.

Gimpel next describes an event that takes place when he is an adult. Everyone plays matchmaker in his marriage to Elka, a promiscuous girl who has already borne one child out of wedlock. Elka, contrary to tradition, demands a dowry from Gimpel, and he acquiesces and reluctantly goes through with the marriage. She refuses to let Gimpel sleep with her, yet when she has a child in four months, she insists that the child is his. Gimpel does not believe her, but all the townspeople argue him “dumb,” as he says. He soon discovers that he loves the child and that the child loves him, so he goes along with Elka’s unlikely tale. Although Elka swears and curses at him, he finds that he loves her, too.

One night when an oven bursts and almost starts a fire at the bakery, where Elka makes him sleep, Gimpel returns home unexpectedly and finds Elka in bed with another man. When Gimpel brings charges against her to the rabbi, she boldly denies everything. The rabbi advises Gimpel to divorce her, but as he lies awake at night, Gimpel discovers that he longs for her and the child and that he cannot be angry, so he rationalizes his change of heart: He may have had a hallucination; he tells the rabbi that he was mistaken. The rabbi advises Gimpel to stay away from his wife until the matter is adjudicated.

Nine months later, Elka gives birth to another child, and this time Gimpel decides no good will come from doubting, so he resolves to believe everything that he is told. In the next twenty years, Gimpel becomes a successful baker, and Elka bears four daughters and two sons. He says that many things happened that he “neither saw nor heard”; he simply believed. Finally, Elka becomes ill, and on her deathbed she confesses to Gimpel that she has deceived him all those years and that not one of the children is his. Gimpel admits to being shocked at her confession.

After the proper period of mourning, Gimpel is visited by the Spirit of Evil, who advises him to urinate in the bread dough to revenge himself on the community, and he does so. However, in a dream he sees his deceased wife in a shroud, her face black. She berates him, saying that she had deceived only herself, and that she is now paying for her transgressions. Feeling that his immortal soul is in jeopardy, Gimpel buries the dough in the frozen ground, divides his possessions among his children, and goes wandering through the world telling tales to children and depending on the goodness of people for his sustenance.

As an old, respected man, Gimpel says that he has learned that if something does not really happen, it is dreamed at night. In his dreams Gimpel sees Elka, who now looks as radiant as a saint to him. She tells him that the time is near when he shall be with her again. Gimpel ends his tale by saying that the world is imaginary and that when his death comes he will go joyfully, for the afterlife will be real and he will not be deceived there.

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