Bailey is the son of the principal character in the story, the Grandmother, and is the father of June Star and John Wesley. He drives the car as the family embarks on their vacation. Bailey’s major importance in the story is his relationship to other people, especially his mother. He allows her to boss him around and to convince him to go out of the way to visit an old house she remembers from her childhood, where the family is killed. Bailey seems unresponsive to his wife and children, allowing them to take advantage of him. Overall, Bailey, who wears a yellow shirt with blue parrots, perhaps symbolizing his cowardice, is a “flat” character.
Red Sammy Butts
Red Sammy Butts owns the barbecue restaurant called the Tower at which the family stops on their car trip. O’Connor describes him as fat with his stomach hanging over . . . Read More
Flannery O’Connor’s story is told by a third person narrator, but the focus is on the Grandmother’s perspective of events. Even though she complains that she would rather go to Tennessee than Florida for vacation, she packs herself (and secretly her cat, Pitty Sing) in the car with her son Bailey, his wife, and their children June Star, John Wesley, and the baby. In a comical instance of foreshadowing, she takes pains to dress properly in a dress and hat, so that if she were found dead on the highway everyone would recognize her as a lady.
When the family stops for lunch at Red Sammy Butts’ barbecue place, the proprietor, a husky man, is insulted by June Star. Nevertheless, he and the Grandmother discuss the escaped murderer known as the Misfit. Noting that the world is increasingly a more dangerous and unfriendly place, Red Sammy tells the Grandmother that these days “A good man is hard to find.” Back on the road, the Grandmother . . . Read More
“Gimpel the Fool” is widely viewed as Isaac Bashevis Singer’s most popular short story. Singer originally wrote the story for a Yiddish newspaper, the Jewish Daily Forward, and then Saul Bellow translated it into English for The Partisan Review in 1953, bringing “Gimpel” and Singer to the attention of American readers. Gimpel is a kind and loving man who seems to be punished for his generosity. His willingness to believe the people around him—and to suffer as a result of believing them—is a virtue and remains one after everything else falls away. As critic Edward Alexander writes of Singer’s wide appeal, “Singer writes almost always as a Jew, to Jews, for Jews, and yet he is heard by everybody.”
Many critics see Gimpel as an example of a Yiddish stock character type, dos kleine menschele (the little man) or schlemiel. Sanford Pinsker, in his The Schlemiel as Metaphor, offers the following definitions of this character . . . Read More
The American Decade
“Gimpel the Fool” was first published in English translation in 1953. The 1950s are sometimes called the “American decade” because European political and military power declined in many areas of the world while the influence of the United States increased. During this time, American economic growth produced an abundance of consumer goods, the population increased by record numbers, and more people became members of the middle class. For example, the population in the United States doubled between 1900 and 1950, with a record 4.3 million births in 1957. During the 1950s the population also shifted from urban areas to suburbs; the urban population only increased 1.5 percent while the suburban population increased 44 percent.
The United States was also at the forefront of technological development. In 1954, Chinese-American An Wang developed and sold the small business calculator; 1955 saw the . . . Read More
“Gimpel the Fool” centers on Gimpel, a baker in the village of Frampol. Although he has been heckled and deceived by his fellow villagers since he was a child, he retains his faith in the goodness of others and in life itself.
“Gimpel the Fool” is set in an indeterminate time in the fictional Jewish shtetl, or village, of Frampol in Poland. Like many of the settings in Isaac Bashevis Singer’s fiction, the shtetl of Frampol is presented as a place where life has a mystical quality, the people are superstitious, survival is difficult, and everyday events and concerns revolve around Jewish faith and traditions.
The story is told exclusively from the viewpoint of Gimpel and is, therefore, an example of first-person narration. Because readers are only given access to Gimpel’s thoughts and feelings and not those of the villagers who frequently make . . . Read More
Faith is one of the primary themes in “Gimpel the Fool.” Despite being teased and deceived mercilessly by the other villagers as well as by his wife Elka, Gimpel maintains his faith in life, in others, and in God. When Elka continues to nag and bully him, Gimpel simply says,”I’m the type that bears it and says nothing. What’s one to do? Shoulders are from God, and burdens too.” Gimpel has consciously decided to choose faith over skepticism; through his faith he finds consolation and peace.
Acceptance and Belonging
Singer also examines the meaning of acceptance in the story. Gimpel is never accepted or appreciated by the villagers for what he is: a kind, compassionate, and honest man. But when he leaves Frampol to become a storyteller, he is considered to be wise and is treated well by those he meets. This suggests that acceptance and belonging is temporal: a person may . . . Read More
See The Spirit of Evil
Elka, who is known as the town prostitute, marries Gimpel when he agrees to get the town to take up a collection to raise a dowry for her. She is five months pregnant by another man when they are married, but she tells Gimpel the child is his and, when it arrives four months after their marriage, that it is simply premature. Throughout the story Elka commits numerous infidelities and eventually has ten children, none of whom are Gimpel’s. On her deathbed she admits her infidelities to her husband and asks him to forgive her.
The Spirit of Evil
The devil appears to Gimpel the baker and tells him to urinate in the bread intended for the village in order to get revenge for the many injustices the villagers have forced him to endure over the years.
Gimpel is a baker in the village of . . . Read More
Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story “Gimpel the Fool,” opens with Gimpel, the narrator, announcing that he is called a fool but does not think of himself as one. Others see him as a fool, he says, because he is “easy to take in.” He is not a fighter, he reasons, so he tries to ignore them. Even so, he admits that “they take advantage of me,” thus demonstrating he understands how others see him and is not as foolish as he seems. Gimpel is an orphan being raised by a grandfather who is “already bent to the grave,” so the townspeople turn him over to a baker. In such a public occupation, nearly all the villagers have had the opportunity to fool him at least once.
When Rietze the Candle-dipper tells him his parents have risen from the grave and are looking for him, Gimpel knows full well this cannot be, but he goes outside to look just in case: “What did I stand to lose just by looking?” This incident creates . . . Read More
It would be difficult to find a reader of short American fiction who does not have at least an acquaintance with O. Henry’s story “The Gift of the Magi.” This story, penned for the Christmas edition of a weekly magazine, is essential O. Henry. It is as synonymous with his name as its technique of the surprise ending.
O. Henry, pseudonym for William Sydney Porter, reached great fame in the first decade of the twentieth century as a writer of some 300 short stories. They are known for their pervasive sense of humor, their quick, chatty beginnings, their confidential narrator, and, of course, their inclusion of one of several types of surprise endings. O. Henry’s fame traveled beyond the borders of the United States; his short story collections have been translated into many foreign languages and can be found throughout the world. Some stories have also been adapted for television, screen, and stage. Such exposure has led O. Henry biographer Eugene . . . Read More
Point of View
In “The Gift of the Magi,” O. Henry uses a folksy narrator to tell the story of Jim and Delia Young, a poor young couple who buy each other special Christmas gifts, which ironically cancel each other out because Delia sells her hair to buy Jim a chain for his watch, which he in turn has sold to buy her a fine set of combs for her hair. Despite the fact that these gifts are now useless, Jim and Delia have given each other the greatest gift of all, which the narrator compares to the gifts given to the Christ child by the wise men, or magi: selfless love.
O. Henry employs several techniques, or literary devices, in “The Gift of the Magi” that are typical of most of his short stories. The first of these is a narrator with personality and presence. Although the story focuses on Delia’s point of view— the reader sees primarily what Delia sees—the story is told in another narrative voice that . . . Read More