Gimpel the Fool

by

Isaac Bashevis Singer

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Gimpel the Fool: Part 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
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 child when he married her. She protests that the baby really is Gimpel’s and was simply born very prematurely, an explanation her husband finds hard to believe. However, after Elka insists that her grandmother also gave birth equally prematurely. When Gimpel goes to the local school-master for advice, the man tells him that Eve, the first woman, gave birth to her two sons immediately after conceiving them with Adam. Gimpel decides to accept Elka’s story and love the baby as his own.
Gimpel is not so blind that he is unable to determine that the timing of this baby’s birth is pretty much a dead giveaway that he is not the child’s father. Yet Elka knows how to exploit her husband’s trustfulness and open-mindedness, forcing him to go against his instincts and accept her story. It also makes sense that the school-master’s use of the Adam and Eve anecdote helps sway Gimpel, since, with his devout faith, he would have a hard time considering something impossible that also happened in the Hebrew bible. Meanwhile his strong impulse to forgive probably plays an equally important role in persuading him to let Elka off the hook.
Themes
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Gimpel 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. He even admits that he regularly steals food from the bakery for his wife, so eager is he to please her. To Gimpel’s disappointment, Elka almost always refuses to have intercourse with him, offering a new excuse each time.  
During this period, Gimpel blossoms into an extremely loving family man, devoted to his son and wife. He is also amazingly tolerant of Elka’s hostile behavior toward him, pardoning and even coming to love that behavior. Meanwhile,  his confession that this love has driven him to sinful deeds (frequent theft) is significant: he recognizes that he himself is not always a perfect person. This self-awareness helps him to be merciful to the other imperfect people in his midst. He prays that he “may be forgiven” for the stealing, and accordingly, he feels obligated to extend forgiveness to others for their lapses.
Themes
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Usually Gimpel sleeps over at the bakery all week, only seeing his family on the weekend. One day, the oven breaks, temporarily making work impossible, and he is excited for the opportunity to go 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; then he realizes that doing so would awaken his young son. Unwilling to disturb his beloved child’s peace, he simply returns to the bakery. The next morning, he brings the  news of Elka’s betrayal to the rabbi. Elka comes to the rabbinical court and protests her innocence, but she is sent away when her boy defecates in his pants, and it is feared that he might end up soiling the Ark (the cupboard where the holy Torah scrolls are kept). The rabbi then orders Gimpel to divorce his wife. He is told he must never again set foot in her house, not even to visit the child.
Gimpel’s outrage at catching his wife cheating on him seems a fairly natural reaction to such betrayal. Yet it is a sign of Gimpel’s unusual thoughtfulness, tenderness, and profound love for his son that he refrains from making a loud scene so as not to upset the innocent, unsuspecting child. It is characteristic of Gimpel to resist the temptation to add to the pain of a painful situation, to go out of his way to make sure no one is wrongfully harmed. However, this moment in the story does test Gimpel’s tenderness toward his family. He chooses to expose Elka to the rabbi, and then he also agrees to the rabbi’s order to abandon Elka and the child, punishing them both for the mother’s misdeeds. Meanwhile, the detail about the fear of the people in the synagogue that the child might accidentally desecrate the Ark is noteworthy. It once again connects filth or dirtiness with impiousness.
Themes
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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 [him] to be really angry.” Furthermore, he starts to wonder if it is possible that he only imagined the man in bed with Elka. After all, she has repeatedly denied the allegations against her whenever questioned by the Rabbi. And all of the villagers have defended her. Gimpel is moved to tears by the idea that he could have wrongly accused her. The following morning, he tells the Rabbi he made a mistake, that Elka is guilty of nothing, and that he would like to reunite with her and the child.
In this passage, Gimpel’s anger toward Elka is supplanted by his feelings of love and forgiveness. He is simply not a resentful person at heart and finds it difficult to want to shun her as he has been commanded to do. Further, even though it seems obvious that Elka is guilty (he saw the man in her bed with his own eyes), his trustfulness makes it very hard for him to confidently dismiss the repeated assertions by Elka and the other townspeople that she is innocent. His seemingly absurd supposition that he might have hallucinated the whole incident is a testament to how fearful Gimpel is that he might ever wrongly think badly of or accuse another person (especially someone he happens to love as much as he loves Elka). As far as he is concerned, it would be far better to be deceived than to do someone such injustice.
Themes
Credulity as Wisdom and Holy Faith  Theme Icon
Punishment vs. Forgiveness  Theme Icon
The Real vs. The Imaginary  Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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