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 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...
(The entire section contains 711 words.)
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