Gimpel the Fool


Isaac Bashevis Singer

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The Spirit of Evil Character Analysis

Shortly after Elka’s death, the story’s main antagonist, The Spirit of Evil—a classic demon figure, with horns, pointy teeth, a tail, and a goatee—appears to Gimpel in his sleep and encourages him to get revenge at the people of Frampol for the years they’ve spent mocking and deceiving him. The Spirit suggests that Gimpel make a habit of urinating in the bread that he sells them. Not only does the Spirit propose a revenge plot, something quite foreign to Gimpel’s nature, he also challenges some of Gimpel’s fundamental and most cherished beliefs. When Gimpel asks whether the trick the Spirit recommends will in any way hurt his chances for the next life, the Spirit sneeringly replies that there is no afterlife. When Gimpel asks if there is a God, the Spirit matter-of-factly declares that there is no God, either. When Gimpel asks what does exist, the Spirit says, simply: “a thick mire”—basically, a giant swamp of nothingness. Everything is false, he insists, so it won’t matter if Gimpel throws some more falsehood into the mix. This Spirit of Evil might equally be called the Spirit of Negation. While Gimpel is tempted by the Spirit’s words, he ultimately rejects the Spirit’s advice. By the end of the story, he articulates a philosophy that is the exact opposite of the nihilistic worldview the Spirit of Evil promotes. Instead of everything being false and fake, Gimpel comes to believe that in God’s expansive universe everything is true and real, even the apparently imaginary or impossible. The Spirit of Evil’s plea for deception becomes symbolic of faithlessness, of the attitude of the person who believes in nothing, whereas Gimpel’s is that of the pious man of faith, who deems whatever he encounters a meaningful and sacred part of God’s reality. For the Spirit of Evil, nothing matters. For Gimpel, everything matters immensely.

The Spirit of Evil Quotes in Gimpel the Fool

The Gimpel the Fool quotes below are all either spoken by The Spirit of Evil or refer to The Spirit of Evil. 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 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:
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The Spirit of Evil Character Timeline in Gimpel the Fool

The timeline below shows where the character The Spirit of Evil appears in Gimpel the Fool. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 4
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
...after Elka’s death, Gimpel is napping in the bakery. In a dream, he sees the Spirit of Evil —a demonic creature with “a goatish beard and horn, long-toothed, and with a tail” —who... (full context)
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
The Real vs. The Imaginary  Theme Icon
Moved by the Spirit of Evil ’s words, Gimpel goes ahead and urinates in some nearby dough. He thinks to himself... (full context)