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 not be accepted in one environment but is welcomed and respected in another.
Gimpel’s acceptance of life, despite his hardships, is also a major theme in the story. He is constantly heckled and mistreated, but he accepts the limitations of and negative qualities in others. He also embraces life, appreciating what he does have: a wife, children, and a successful bakery. Instead of getting angry and vengeful, Gimpel simply states, “One can’t pass through life unscathed, nor expect to.” While Gimpel does momentarily contemplate revenge on the villagers by urinating in the bread dough, he quickly changes his mind, choosing instead to leave Frampol.
Knowledge and Ignorance
Although Gimpel is presented as a fool, Singer suggests through his telling of the events of the story that Gimpel actually possesses a special wisdom. It is not that he simply believes the outrageous things the villagers tell him, but rather, that he chooses to do so. For example, when the villagers tell Gimpel that his father and mother “have stood up from the grave,” Gimpel states: “To tell the truth, I knew very well that nothing of the sort had happened.” Singer also suggests that Gimpel is rather shrewd. He manages to raise a dowry from the villagers for Elka, he becomes a successful baker with his own bakery, and at the end of the story he finds happiness and contentment.
Honor and Integrity
Although Gimpel is considered a fool, Singer presents him as having much more integrity than others in the village. For example, he takes good care of Elka, treats her ten children as if they were his, and, when he has the opportunity to get revenge on the villagers, he chooses not to. This integrity, Singer suggests, is much more valuable and meaningful than what is typically considered intelligence.
Short Stories for Students, Volume 2, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Edited by Kathleen Wilson, Published by Gale Research, New York, 1997.