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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 751

Gimpel the Fool is perhaps Singer's most famous character. He is a schlemiel (a fool), but one may also consider the possibility that he is a wise and devout Jew. Gimpel, from Frampol, becomes renowned in his shtetl for being so gullible, for believing everything that he hears. People enjoy testing him, telling him falsely that the rabbi's wife has gone into labor, that the dead (even his own parents) have risen from their graves, and that the woman (Elka) he is to marry is a virgin (she is actually a loose woman who has been divorced and widowed and who has already given birth to a son whom she calls her younger brother). He marries her, despite his knowledge that she lies about being a virgin, and she cheats on him throughout the marriage and gives birth to a child seventeen weeks after their wedding (obviously not his child although she claims that the child has simply been born prematurely). But Gimpel manifests his goodness by never losing his temper towards his wife or anyone else who lies to him. This ability to accept the lies of others and to maintain his temper as the others publicly humiliate him ennobles him in the eyes of many. And perhaps Gimpel is not such a schlemiel because he actually is not duped by these tricksters; he merely pretends to believe because he does not want to hurt their feelings and because he feels that he has nothing to lose by believing. And he links belief in worldly matters with belief in God. If one loses faith in what others say, one may eventually lose faith in God. One day Gimpel does have a crisis of faith: Satan comes to him and convinces him to revenge himself on the townspeople for their lies, to urinate in the bread that he bakes for them in the bakery. He does so, but Elka, his wife, returns to him from Hell to convince him to change his mind. Gimpel regains his faith and buries the bread before it is distributed, enabling him to keep his conscience clear and his soul pure.

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Abba Shuster is a diligent shoemaker who enjoys making shoes for people in Frampol. He is a dedicated family man who must cope with the loss of his wife (who dies) and his seven sons (who move to New Jersey). Abba represents the hard-working and devout Jew who accepts his station in life and who desires to serve God by making comfortable shoes for other members of his faith.

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The Gentleman from Cracow is a mischievous man (actually Satan) who corrupts devout but poor Jews in a small town. He tests their faith and their allegiance to God, and he finds that for a price they will succumb to him. He seduces them from their obedience to God's laws, taking advantage of their poverty, pride, and ambition. The victims in the story are gullible and greedy, so they foolishly succumb to temptation, unlike Gimpel the Fool.

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Latest answer posted October 20, 2015, 8:37 pm (UTC)

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Rabbi Bainish of Komarov in "Joy" is a remarkable clergyman who starts to lose his faith because his children die, one by one. He ponders why an omnipotent God would allow such a tragedy to occur. His loss of faith is shocking to the community because he has been such an important and talented rabbi for a long time. Singer shows how even a rabbi can lose his faith when he has suffered enough. The reader watches as Bainish struggles and finally overcomes his doubts shortly before his death. Bainish, like Gimpel the Fool, laments his unhappiness and lot in life; both men succeed, however, in maintaining their faith.

Reb Nathan in "The Unseen" is an honest man and a good husband—until he meets Shifra Zirel. Satan has set up this essay of Nathan's honesty, enticing Nathan into choosing to divorce his wife of many years to marry a young housekeeper. Nathan has many chances to repent and to change his mind, but his lust overcomes his reason and his morality. One may argue that Zirel's frequent refusals of his initial overtures to her indicate that he has been warned many times, but one may also argue that her refusals of his sexual advances merely increase his sexual longings for her and are thus part of Satan's design. He apparently is quite remorseful for his misdeeds and wishes to remarry Roise, yet he only exhibits sorrow after Zirel deserts him and he realizes that God is punishing him.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 354

See The Spirit of Evil

Elka, who is known as the town prostitute, marries Gimpel when he agrees to get the town to take up a collection to raise a dowry for her. She is five months pregnant by another man when they are married, but she tells Gimpel the child is his and, when it arrives four months after their marriage, that it is simply premature. Throughout the story Elka commits numerous infidelities and eventually has ten children, none of whom are Gimpel's. On her deathbed she admits her infidelities to her husband and asks him to forgive her.

The Spirit of Evil
The devil appears to Gimpel the baker and tells him to urinate in the bread intended for the village in order to get revenge for the many injustices the villagers have forced him to endure over the years.

Gimpel is a baker in the village of Frampol. Although he is constantly teased and tricked by his fellow villagers, he continues to believe in the essential goodness of others and to bear life's burdens. After agreeing to marry Elka, the town prostitute, he states, "You can't pass through life unscathed, nor expect to." Gimpel represents the dos kleine menshele, or "the common man" of Yiddish literature; his innocence provides humor and conveys a simple goodness that combats evil.

The rabbi is the spiritual authority in the village of Frampol. Early in the story, Gimpel goes to him for advice after being teased numerous times by the other villagers. The rabbi, who is the only one in the town who recognizes and appreciates Gimpel's goodness, tells him that "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." Gimpel again goes to the rabbi when he finds Elka in bed with another man. The rabbi tells Gimpel to divorce Elka and to abandon her children. However, when Gimpel tells the rabbi that he loves his wife, the rabbi finds a precedent in the Torah to allow Gimpel to stay with Elka.

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