Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

At the heart of this story is the conflict between the world of ideas and the world of passion, between the rational and the irrational, the ideal and the actual, the mind and the body, eternity and time. Fischelson and Black Dobbe dramatize both sides of this equation—Fischelson the intellectual side, and Black Dobbe the physical and emotional. Isaac Bashevis Singer painstakingly shows that each side needs the other, especially that the mental requires its opposite for survival. Fischelson’s problem is that he has isolated himself in the ideal through his all but idolatrous devotion to Spinoza, and in so doing—in not paying attention to the other side of his humanity—he has become ill. The story makes a point of showing that his illness has no physical source; that is, his commitment to the mind has caused it, for the doctors whom Fischelson consults cannot attribute his chronic indigestion and stomach pains to anything more concrete than a nervous disorder. Fischelson emphasizes the general over the specific, thereby neglecting many of his needs as a specific human being, and it is this emphasis that provides the context for his impending death. He decides that he is dying, not because of something he has done as an individual but because the Great War has started. His logic is that if destruction has come in general, then his own life is finished. In short, he sees survival in general, not personal, terms.

Black Dobbe, on the other hand, has...

(The entire section is 459 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

Philosophy versus Religion
A central theme of this story is the conflict between the ideas put forth in modern philosophy (such...

(The entire section is 662 words.)