Gimpel The Fool by Isaac Bashevis SingerIsaac Bashevis Singer's "Gimpel The Fool"Ã¯Â¿Â½ is about an orphan who goes through life being the source of everyone's laughter. The story raises the question of wisdom versus foolishness. While the town's people considered Gimpel a fool, he believed he was wise.
The people of the town believed Gimpel to be a fool and simpleton. Gimpel had several names given him such as "imbecile, donkey, flax-head, dope, glump, ninny, and fool."Ã¯Â¿Â½(79) All the names given him by his peers reflected their image of him. It was an image of being slow in the head and gullible. Gimpel could not turn around without someone playing a joke on him. One day, as he came home from school, someone barked like a dog. Gimpel ran in fright, not wanting to be bitten. They would tell him "Gimpel, the moon fell down in Turbeen"Ã¯Â¿Â½; "Gimpel, little Hodel Furpiece found a treasure behind the bath house"Ã¯Â¿Â½(79).
As improbable as the stories were, he always fell for them. Tired of being everyone's fool, Gimpel considered leaving town. They convinced him to stay and marry Elka, the local town whore. Although he knew "she was no chaste maiden"Ã¯Â¿Â½ they told him she was a "virgin pure"Ã¯Â¿Â½(80). Elka had a bastard child but they convinced him the child was her little brother. She limped, but that was on purpose. Gimpel the fool, they could convince him of anything.
Gimpel is a passive and loving man by nature. When they made him a fool, Gimpel "let it pass,"Ã¯Â¿Â½(79) thinking, "what was I to do?"Ã¯Â¿Â½ Gimpel could play the fool or confront them. However, Gimpel believed the latter would cause "the whole town to come down on me!"Ã¯Â¿Â½(79) He did not want conflict so he played the fool. The rabbi's daughter told him the law requires one to kiss the wall after visiting the rabbi. He thought, "Well, there didn't seem to be any harm in it"Ã¯Â¿Â½(80). So, Gimpel kissed the wall, and she laughed. Gimpel loved his wife so much that he endured all Elka's abuse saying, "another man in my place would have taken French leave and disappeared"Ã¯Â¿Â½(83). Gimpel just "couldn't get enough of her"Ã¯Â¿Â½(82); He "adored every word"Ã¯Â¿Â½(82). Seventeen weeks after the wedding, Elka gave birth to a son. Although he knew the child was not his, he loved him as if he were. When the second child was born, he had not even seen Elka in nine months, but he loved her enough to bless her and the child. The children that were born of Elka, six in all, were clearly not Gimpel's, but he loved them as if they were. Years after Elk's death, even after the way she abused and cheated him, Gimpel would weep, thinking of Elka, "Let me be with you."Ã¯Â¿Â½ Perhaps his love was one only an orphan could understand, an orphan without a family of his own.
Although Gimpel played the part of the fool, he considered himself to be the contrary; Because of his faith, he was in his eyes wise. Gimpel followed the teachings of his religion and the writings of wise men. He knew the people of the town were playing jokes on him, but it was written in the Wisdom of the Fathers, "Everything is possible."Ã¯Â¿Â½(79) No matter how improbable the stories sounded, he would believe. When people of the town told him the Messiah has come and his parents have risen from their graves looking for him. Gimpel "knew very well that nothing of the sort had happened"Ã¯Â¿Â½ but then again, everything is possible. As he put it, "What did I stand to lose by looking?"Ã¯Â¿Â½(80), so he did and they laughed. The rabbi told him, "Belief in itself is beneficial. It is written that a good man lives by his faith."Ã¯Â¿Â½(86) Gimpel was living his life by his faith. When Gimpel was so confused and tired of people taking advantage of him, he went to his rabbi for advice. The rabbi told him "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"Ã¯Â¿Â½(80). The people of the town were having fun now, but at the expense of paradise. His rabbi told him, "he who causes his neighbor to feel shame loses Paradise himself"Ã¯Â¿Â½(80). He was living his life to get into paradise. He believed that blessings, as well as burdens, were from God. Perhaps he considered his hardships with the people of the town as being sent from God. Anytime he needed advice, Gimpel consulted his rabbi. When he found his wife with another man, he went to his rabbi. When Elka went into labor, he went to the house of prayers to repeat Psalms. In accordance with his religion, Gimpel circumcised his son. Gimpel was tempted by a demon to take revenge for his mistreatment by the people of Frampol, but Elka appeared to him and reminded him not to lose Paradise. To keep from losing his "Eternal Life"Ã¯Â¿Â½(88), Gimpel left town. He gave everything to the children except his prayer scroll, kissing the mezzuzah as he left the house. While he lay dying, he thought; "No doubt the world is entirely an imaginary world, but it is only once removed from the true world."Ã¯Â¿Â½(88) The true world is heaven. Gimpel realized, by his faith, that life on earth was just a stepping-stone to the final life in Heaven; Life on earth is temporary. On earth, your spirit lives within a physical body (or temple) but when you die, the body is gone and the spirit lives for eternity -- in Heaven or Hell.
Was Gimpel a fool or was he wise? In some ways Gimpel was a fool. Gimpel was a fool for staying in Frampol as long as he did. He should have left the first time he wanted to "go off into another town"Ã¯Â¿Â½(80). If the burdens were from God, they would follow him wherever he went. Even though Gimpel believed "you can't pass through life unscathed,"Ã¯Â¿Â½(80) it's not necessary to hold yourself in misery either. He could have lived the life needed to get into paradise somewhere else. However, Gimpel was wise in the most important way. Regardless of his quality of life, he always followed the word of God. Gimpel was a strong man. How could a weak man take so much abuse and not lash out at the perpetrators. He knew he lived his life well and was ready to rejoin Elka; "When the time comes I will go joyfully"Ã¯Â¿Â½(89). Unlike the others, he would not lose his paradise, the place where "even Gimpel cannot be deceived"Ã¯Â¿Â½(89). He lived his life in a manner required to achieve his goal. His goal of making it into the "true world."Ã¯Â¿Â½ The people of Frampol will burn in hell for their actions but "Gimpel the Fool"Ã¯Â¿Â½ will be in Paradise. Who should be considered the fool, the one burning in Hell or the one sitting in Paradise?