Gimpel the Fool

by

Isaac Bashevis Singer

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Gimpel Character Analysis

Gimpel is the narrator and protagonist of the story, and is characterized by his gullibility, gentleness, open-mindedness, kindness, and moral strength. A resident of the small Polish town of Frampol, he is orphaned early and raised by a sickly grandfather. When his grandfather dies, Gimpel starts work at the town bakery. The single significant fact about Gimpel for the people of Frampol is that he believes whatever he hears, however ridiculous—hence his nickname “Gimpel the Fool.” However, his belief is actually more complex than his neighbors realize. First of all, he does not blindly accept everything; he actually doubts many of the stories he is told. Yet while he judges them to be highly unlikely, he cannot bring himself to dismiss them outright when he reflects that, theoretically, anything is possible. In this sense, more than being gullible, Gimpel is an extremely open person. Further, Gimpel is afraid to think or speak ill of any person unjustly. This is why, on the two occasions that he catches his wife Elka sleeping with another man, he ends up persuading himself that he must have imagined the sight. For even though he beheld the betrayal with his own eyes, the slight possibility that his own vision, and not Elka, has deceived him, keeps him from blaming Elka, since to him, the worst thing would be to do so unfairly. Moreover, Gimpel ultimately feels that even if Elka did cheat on him, she is still worthy of forgiveness. This is another major character trait: he is very forgiving, which goes hand in hand with how loving he is. Although Elka is cruel to him throughout their marriage, Gimpel loves her passionately. Although he has questions about the true paternity of his children, he adores and is extremely devoted to them all. He even feels intense affection and concern for their family’s goat. Overall, while Gimpel is perceived by others as a pathetic simpleton, the story actually portrays him as a person of rare virtue. The story suggests that through his extreme trust, generosity of spirit, and capacity for love, Gimpel should be considered not a fool, but an unappreciated hero, a man of wisdom, and uniquely able to appreciate and trust in God and his creation.

Gimpel Quotes in Gimpel the Fool

The Gimpel the Fool quotes below are all either spoken by Gimpel or refer to Gimpel. 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 1 Quotes

Everything is possible, as it is written in the Wisdom of the Fathers. I forget just how.

Related Characters: Gimpel (speaker)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

To tell the truth, I knew very well that nothing of the sort had happened, but all the same, as folks were talking, I threw on my wool vest and went out. Maybe something had happened. What did I stand to lose by looking?

Related Characters: Gimpel (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Town of Frampol
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

“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. For he who causes his neighbor to feel shame loses Paradise himself.”

Related Characters: The Rabbi (speaker), Gimpel
Related Symbols: The Town of Frampol
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
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

‘Let the sages of Frampol eat filth.’

‘What about the judgment in the world to come?’ I said.

‘There is no world to come,’ he said. “They’ve sold you a bill of goods and talked you into believing you carried a cat in your belly. What nonsense!’ ‘Well then,’ I said, ‘And is there a God?’

He answered, ‘There is no God either.’

‘What,’ I said, ‘is there, then?’

‘A thick mire.’

Related Characters: Gimpel (speaker), The Spirit of Evil (speaker)
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

I heard a great deal, many lies and falsehoods, but the longer I lived, the more I understood that there were really no lies. Whatever doesn’t really happen is dreamed at night. It happens to one if it doesn’t happen to another, tomorrow if not today, or a century hence if not next year. What difference does it make? Often I heard tales of which I said, ‘Now this is a thing that cannot happen.’ But before a year had elapsed I heard that it had actually come to pass somewhere.

Related Characters: Gimpel (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Town of Frampol
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

No doubt the world is entirely an imaginary world, but it is only once removed from the real world….Whatever may be there, it will be real, without complication, without ridicule, without deception. God be praised: there even Gimpel cannot be deceived.

Related Characters: Gimpel (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Town of Frampol
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
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Gimpel the Fool PDF

Gimpel Character Timeline in Gimpel the Fool

The timeline below shows where the character Gimpel 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
Gimpel, the narrator, introduces himself by the nickname he has long been called in the village... (full context)
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
...as to fill his hands with disgusting goat’s droppings that they told him were raisins. Gimpel reflects that he could have made his classmates regret their cruelty, as he was a... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Gimpel recalls another incident from his boyhood that helped create his reputation as a “fool.” One... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
...girl found a treasure behind an outhouse; the rabbi gave birth, prematurely, to a calf. Gimpel believes each of these tales. He reasons that, as it says in the famous book... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Gimpel explains that he is an orphan and spent his childhood living with his sickly grandfather.... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Gimpel, embarrassed and frustrated by all the mockery, goes to the rabbi for advice. The rabbi... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Gimpel decides he has had enough of the village, but just as he is on the... (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... (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... (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 she was already pregnant with another man’s... (full context)
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Gimpel and his new son grow extremely fond of each other. He also comes to cherish... (full context)
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Usually Gimpel sleeps over at the bakery all week, only seeing his family on the weekend. One... (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... (full context)
Part 3
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
For nine months, 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... (full context)
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Because he is not allowed to go home, Gimpel has an apprentice at the bakery transport food to Elka and the children. Gimpel initially... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
The Real vs. The Imaginary  Theme Icon
...passage by Maimonides (an important Jewish scholar scholar) which leads him to believe that if Gimpel is absolutely confident he had been mistaken about seeing a man in Elka’s bed,  it... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
When Gimpel gets inside the house, his first stop is to look at the new baby, asleep... (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 tells him that their nanny-goat has been unwell,... (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... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
...the incident with the apprentice, Elka becomes gravely ill from a breast tumor, much to Gimpel’s dismay. He spends whatever is necessary to try to save her, but all of the... (full context)
Part 4
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
The Real vs. The Imaginary  Theme Icon
After burying the bread, Gimpel returns home and divides his money among the children. He tells them he has seen... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
The Real vs. The Imaginary  Theme Icon
Gimpel becomes a vagabond, wandering from place to place. He spends years like this, growing old... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
The Real vs. The Imaginary  Theme Icon
One day, a little boy complains that Gimpel has repeated himself, that he has told a story they’ve already heard. Gimpel realizes this... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
The Real vs. The Imaginary  Theme Icon
In his old age, Gimpel is ready, even eager, for death. He has come to the belief that the “world... (full context)