Gimpel the Fool

by

Isaac Bashevis Singer

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Gimpel’s wife, Elka, is a very tough woman, fond of shockingly vulgar language and getting her own way. She has already had several relationships before meeting Gimpel: two previous husbands (one who died and one from whom she is divorced) and, it is implied, numerous extra-marital affairs, including one that produced a bastard son, Yechiel, whom she claims is her younger brother. Although Gimpel is convinced to marry her on false pretenses and falls deeply in love with her, Elka ignores his affection and spends most of the time belittling and bullying him. The real anguish she causes him comes from her serial infidelity. Gimpel repeatedly catches her cheating, and while each time she manages to convince him that he has been mistaken—shamelessly taking advantage of his trustfulness—she ultimately admits on her deathbed that she really was unfaithful the whole time, a heartbreaking revelation for Gimpel. Looking at her dead face, Gimpel notices a smile, as if she were pleased or amused at having deceived him. Yet after her death Elka undergoes a sort of moral transformation, acting as conscience and guardian angel for Gimpel. When Gimpel sets in motion a plan to take revenge on the people of Frampol for the years of mockery and deception they’ve made him endure, it is the repentant ghost of his wife who redirects him to the path of goodness. Appearing in a dream, she warns that she is suffering greatly for her past misconduct and that he must not complete his evil deceit if he hopes for a place in Paradise. At this point, it seems like she is doomed for her own crimes, yet in Gimpel’s old age he constantly has visions of her as a shining saint, comforting him, granting him the affection and kindness he always craved from her, and indicating that they will have a blissful afterlife together. While this may just be wishful dreaming on Gimpel’s part, it also seems to be a suggestion from Singer that even a person as seemingly morally bankrupt as Elka is not beyond redemption. Her apparent presence in Paradise also fits in with the story’s vision of the next world as a place in which all the evils and lies of earth will be simplified into goodness and truth.

Elka Quotes in Gimpel the Fool

The Gimpel the Fool quotes below are all either spoken by Elka or refer to Elka. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Farrar, Straus and Giroux edition of Gimpel the Fool published in 1983.
Part 2 Quotes

She swore at me and cursed, and I couldn’t get enough of her. What strength she had! One of her looks could rob you of the power of speech. And her orations! Pitch and sulphur, that’s what they were full of, and yet somehow also full of charm. I adored her every word. She gave me bloody wounds though.

Related Characters: Gimpel (speaker), Elka
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

I thieved because of her and swiped everything I could lay hands on: macaroons, raisins, almond cakes. I hope I may be forgiven for stealing from the Saturday pots the women left to warm in the baker’s oven.

Related Characters: Gimpel (speaker), Elka
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

I’m the type that bears it and says nothing. What’s one to do? Shoulders are from God, and burdens too.

Related Characters: Gimpel (speaker), Elka
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

Another in the town would have made an uproar, and enough noise to rouse the whole town, but the thought occurred to me that I might wake the child. A little thing like that--why frighten a little swallow, I thought.

Related Characters: Gimpel (speaker), Elka, The “Premature” Son
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

‘Enough of being a donkey,’ I said to myself. ‘Gimpel isn’t going to be a sucker all his life. There’s a limit to the foolishness even of a fool like Gimpel.’

Related Characters: Gimpel (speaker), Elka, The “Premature” Son
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

A longing took me, for her and for the child. I wanted to be angry, but that’s my misfortune exactly, I don’t have it in me to be really angry.

Related Characters: Gimpel (speaker), Elka, The “Premature” Son
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

This was how my thoughts went—there’s bound to be a slip up sometimes. You can’t live without errors. Probably that lad who was with her led her on and gave her presents and what not, and women are often long on hair and short on sense, and so he got around her.

Related Characters: Gimpel (speaker), Elka
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

And then she denies it so, maybe I was only seeing things? Hallucinations do happen. You see a figure or a mannikin or something, but when you come up closer it’s nothing, there’s not a thing there. And if that’s so, I’m doing her an injustice. And when I got so far in my thoughts I started to weep.

Related Characters: Gimpel (speaker), Elka
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3 Quotes

I resolved that I would always believe what I was told. What’s the good of not believing? Today it’s your wife you don’t believe; tomorrow it’s God himself you won’t take stock in.

Related Characters: Gimpel (speaker), Elka
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

It was all up with Elka. On her whitened lips there remained a smile. I imagined that, dead as she was, she was saying, ‘I deceived Gimpel. That was the meaning of my brief life.

Related Characters: Gimpel (speaker), Elka
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4 Quotes

She is standing by the washtub, as at our first encounter, but her face is shining and her eyes are as radiant as the eyes of a saint, and she speaks outlandish words to me, strange things. When I wake I have forgotten it all. But while the dream lasts I am comforted. She answers all my queries, and what comes out is that all is right.

Related Characters: Gimpel (speaker), Elka
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
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Elka Character Timeline in Gimpel the Fool

The timeline below shows where the character Elka appears in Gimpel the Fool. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
...neighbors start insisting that they have the perfect bride for him. The woman they propose, Elka, does not seem to Gimpel to be a good match: he has heard she is... (full context)
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
The villagers are in high spirits as they lead Gimpel to Elka’s house. However, they are too afraid to actually go inside with Gimpel, for they fear... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Gimpel’s neighbors enthusiastically pitch in to raise the money Elka requires. During the wedding ceremony (which takes place during a dysentery epidemic, with the corpses... (full context)
Part 2
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Four months after the wedding, Elka gives birth to a baby boy. Gimpel is furious, since he knows that this means... (full context)
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
...and his new son grow extremely fond of each other. He also comes to cherish Elka, despite the fact that she is constantly insulting him, using the bitterest and foulest language.... (full context)
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
...home early. But what he discovers when he arrives home sends him into a rage: Elka is sleeping beside another man! In his anger, Gimpel feels like shouting at the pair;... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
The Real vs. The Imaginary  Theme Icon
Gimpel obeys the Rabbi’s orders, but soon enough he begins to yearn for his wife and son. He thinks he should be angry yet finds he “do[esn’t] have it in... (full context)
Part 3
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
...a council of rabbis discusses whether it would be permissible for Gimpel to return to Elka after accusing her of adultery. In the meantime, Elka gives birth to a daughter. The... (full context)
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
...not allowed to go home, Gimpel has an apprentice at the bakery transport food to Elka and the children. Gimpel initially disliked the apprentice, who liked to tease him, but now... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
The Real vs. The Imaginary  Theme Icon
...that if Gimpel is absolutely confident he had been mistaken about seeing a man in Elka’s bed,  it would be acceptable for him to return to her. Gimpel affirms his certainty... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
...her, “each tiny bone.” His happiness doesn’t last long, unfortunately. Once home, Gimpel discovers his wife yet again sleeping beside another man, and this time it is none other than the... (full context)
The Real vs. The Imaginary  Theme Icon
Elka wakes up and is shocked to see Gimpel. But instead of addressing the situation, she... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
The Real vs. The Imaginary  Theme Icon
Confused and embarrassed, Gimpel simply resolves to believe Elka and the apprentice, and, in addition, never again to doubt what he is told. And... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Twenty years after the incident with the apprentice, Elka becomes gravely ill from a breast tumor, much to Gimpel’s dismay. He spends whatever is... (full context)
Part 4
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Not long after Elka’s death, Gimpel is napping in the bakery. In a dream, he sees the Spirit of... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
The Real vs. The Imaginary  Theme Icon
...to find himself having another intense dream. This time he sees the ghost of his wife, Elka. “What have you done, Gimpel?” she cries. She warns him that she is being... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
The Real vs. The Imaginary  Theme Icon
...Very often, when he sleeps, he finds himself back in Frampol, face to face with Elka. She is standing by the tub, just like when he met her, only now she... (full context)