(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 751 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

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,...

(The entire section is 354 words.)