The Civil Rights Movement
Fueled with the speeches of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and with the deaths of several African-American activists, the civil rights movement was at its peak in 1955. Just the year before, the Supreme Court of the United States had struck down legal segregation in schools in a landmark decision. In 1955, Rosa Parks of Montgomery, Alabama, made her heroic and famous decision not to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. This single action engendered a widespread bus boycott which catapulted its organizer, Martin Luther King, Jr., to national attention. Georgia, where O’Connor lived and set the story, was filled with racial tension. The Grandmother’s attitudes toward African Americans typify the beliefs of many in the state at the time. When she tells June Star that “Little niggers in the country don’t have things like we do,” she was expressing a sentiment many people in white society in . . . Read More
Symbols, elements in a work of fiction that stand for something more profound or meaningful, allow writers to communicate complicated ideas to readers in a work that appears to be simple. Flannery O’Connor includes several symbols in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” For example, skies and weather are always symbolic to O’Connor, and she often uses such descriptions to reveal a character’s state of mind. In another story “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” O’Connor ends the story with a man being “chased” by an ominous thundercloud, because the man is feeling guilty for abandoning his mentally and physically challenged wife at a roadside diner. In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” the sky at the end of the story is cloudless and clear, indicating that the Grandmother has died with a clear vision of her place in the world. Another symbol in the story is the old house that . . . Read More
In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” an escaped convict and his companions murder a family because of a series of mishaps on the part of the Grandmother. Thinking that an old house is in Georgia rather than Tennessee, she insists that her son Bailey take a detour that leads them to their deaths. Because she has secretly brought her cat along, her son Bailey drives the car off the road when the cat leaps to his shoulders. Finally, she blurts out the identity of the murderer so that he has no choice but to murder them all. Readers are introduced to a quirky family and what appears to be a typical family car trip, but the story ends on a more philosophical note when the Grandmother attains a state of grace at the moment she realizes that the murderer is “one of her children.”
Prejudice vs. Tolerance
The Grandmother demonstrates racial and class prejudice through her words and actions. She is vain and selfish, and she . . . Read More
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