Abstract: Gimpel is a famous figure in Jewish writer, Isaac. B. Singer’s works. He is famous for his “foolishness”, and he is fooled by people around him. Actually he pretended to be fool in order to survive. The writer reflects the miserable conditions of the oppressed Jewish people by describing this figure, making readers feel pitiful towards this figure, towards this nationality.
Key Words: Gimpel the fool national spirit
Gimpel the Fool is one of the famous short fictions of Jewish writer, Isaac. B. Singer. It describes a figure of a vivid Jewish small potato. By describing the figure, Isaac Singer displays the miserable and distressed way of living of the oppressed Jews.
The culture of a nationality is closely connected with the surrounding and historical background it grows up in. The Jews has a long history with Bible as their biggest fortune. The Jewish nationality is famous for their forbearance, restraint and wisdom. In history, they were forced to leave the places they lived now and then, and even did not have their own motherland; and the biggest massacre of the Jewish people in the Second World War made the Jews experienced the pains of losing their home and relatives. Maybe none of the nationalities in history ever experienced so many hardships. The great sufferings made the Jewish people form the spirit of tenacious and never yield to their destination. They feared not only the hatred attitude towards them, also the feeling of being assimilated. For long, they lived together in Jewish residential, established Jewish church, listened to rabbis, and emphasized their unique religion and way of living.
During the course of exile, the Jews formed their own way of thinking of the world and themselves. The Jewish people called themselves as “the nationality of memories”. They want their descendents memorize their beliefs, their life as slaves in Egypt, the history of being massacred, the behaviors, sayings and wisdom of their saints, and the history of the Jewish nationality. Those memories include not only glories and proud, but also failures and sufferings, and they all work as warnings for their descendents. Only because of their unique national spirit, the whole Jewish nationality survives after so many disasters.
Judaism plays an important role among the Jews. All their behaviors are guided by their religious belief. Among the Jewish people, blood lineage and prestige are not authorized; the ultimate authority comes from the Laws and the enlightenment from God. They consider that there is no difference between people, if there is, it is the difference between the mean and the holy. They believe all of their good behaviors can be rewarded by God after their death. As the spokesman of God, rabbis enjoy great respect among the Jewish people. Their statuses are vital in Jewish people’s lives.
Facing conflicts between old traditions and modern civilization, the Jewish writers tried to use their pens to describe the dangerous conditions of the Jews, which influence the American literature a lot. Issac. B.Singer is a famous Jewish writer who was born in a rabbinical family in Poland. He received traditional Jewish way of education from his childhood. He was familiar with the life of the Jews, especially those who lived in the lower class. He always described the Yiddish-speaking Jews lived in America and Poland who were suffered from setbacks and hardships. As a Jewish writer, Singer connected his works closely with the Jewish nationality. Most of his works reflected the small potatoes in common life, and reflected the hard conditions of the Jews through these small potatoes. Growing up in the Jewish surroundings, Singer experienced profoundly the sufferings of his nationality. The Nobel Prize said, “this world has gone forever, destroyed by the most terrible of all scourges that have afflicted the Jews and other people in Poland. But it comes to life in Singer’s memories and writing in general. Its mental and physical environment and its centuries-old traditions have set their stamp on Singer as a man and a writer, and provide the ever-vivid subject matter for his inspiration and imagination. Its world, which the reader encounters in Singer’s stories, is a very Jewish but also a very human world. It appears to include everything---pleasure and suffering, coarseness and subtlety.” (Noble Prize Committee, 1978) Singer believed the sufferings of the Jews will vanish as the Savior comes. The belief supports the Jews to endure all of the hardships and expect the day of revival. When Singer was awarded the Noble Prize for literature, the Nobel Prize Committee said that his passionate way of telling stories not only rooted deeply in his Jewish Poland culture, but also reflected and described the common condition of human beings. “The clash between tradition and renewal, between other-worldliness and faith and mysticism on the one hand, and free thought, secularization, doubt and nihilism on the other, is an essential theme in Singer’s short stores and novels. The theme is Jewish, made topical by the barbarous conflicts of our age, a painful drama between contentious loyalties. But it is also of concern to mankind, to us all, Jew or non-Jew, actualized by modern western culture’s struggles between preservation and renewal”. (Noble Prize Committee)
2. An analysis of the story
In the story of Gimpel the Fool, Gimpel was described as a fool in people’s eyes, “I am Gimpel the fool. I don’t think myself a fool. On the contrary. But that’s what folks call me.” “I had seven names in all: imbecile, donkey, flax-headed, dope, glump, ninny, and fool. The last name stuck.” He was abused and insulted by people in the small town, and was taken advantage almost by everyone. They cheated Gimpel in marrying a woman who has an unsavory reputation, and she bore six children after their marriage---none of his own. He was driven to the bakery by his wife every night, but once when he went back, he found there was a man lying beside his wife---not him. Facing with the lies and embarrassments, he didn’t care at all, “I knew very well that nothing of the sort had happened…what did I stand to lose by looking?”, “You can’t pass through life unscathed, nor expect to”, “But I’m the type that bears it and says nothing. What’s one to do? Shoulders are from God, and burdens too”, “There is bound to be a slip sometimes. You can’t live without errors”, “what’s the good of not believing? Today it’s your wife you don’t believe; tomorrow it’s God Himself you won’t take stock in.” We can not tell whether he is a fool or a wise after hearing these sayings. After so many times of being cheated, he was lured by the Spirit of Evil to urinate in the bread in order to take revenge. He did it. Strangely enough, he dreamed his deceased wife while waiting for the breads to bake; she said: “you fool, because I was false is everything false too? ... They spare you nothing here.” He regretted and destroyed the loaves of bread finally. In the struggle between God and Evil, Gimpel chose to follow God and forgave people in the town. He acted in the same way as the Jewish nationality: self-restraint and generous toward people who had hurt them.
In Gimpel’s life, God and rabbi are the guiders of his behaviors. Every time when he was in trouble, he would go to the rabbi to seek for advice. The rabbi said: “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. For he who causes his neighbor to feel shame loses Paradise himself.” “Belief in itself is beneficial. It is written that a good man lives by his faith”. For thousand years, the Jews accumulated many wise sayings about life, people and the society which are products of the Jewish people’s ideas and wisdom. By memorizing these maxims and exercising good behaviors, the Jews were encouraged to survive and to realize their dreams of reviving. As the embodiment of the Jews, Gimpel behaved after his ancestor and God’s words. He forgave his wife and the men who had cheated him, just like the oppressed Jewish people--- though oppressed, still lived strongly and tenaciously.
Though Gimpel was called a fool, his behaviors are not foolish at all. On the contrary, he behaved like a wise when he was taken advantage. When he was white and old, he “heard a great deal, many lies and falsehoods, but the longer I lived the more I understood that there were really no lies. Whatever doesn’t really happen is dreamed at night. It happens to one if it doesn’t happen to another, tomorrow if not today, or a century hence if not next year. What difference can it make? Often I heard tales of which I said, ‘now this is a thing that cannot happen’. But before a year had clasped I hear that it actually had come to pass somewhere.” His way of living was the same as the oppressed and the massacred Jewish people---pretended to be foolish and obedient just in order to survive and seek for chance to revive.
Gimpel made me recall a story: William. Harrison, the ninth president of America, was regarded as a fool when he was small because of his taciturn. People always making fun of him by placing two coins before him: one is five cents and the other is ten, and asked him to choose just one of them. Every time, Harrison chose the five-cent one, the action made people laughing and always playing the same trick over and over again. One of the women pitied him, said: “don’t you know which one is worth?” Harrison answered: “surely I know. But if I took the ten-cent one, they would never play such a trick on me, and then I could not even get the five-cent one”. Just like Harrion, Gimpel was not a real fool; he pretended to be a fool just in order to survive, but his actions made those who “takes advantage” of him seemed even more foolish. The writer was pitiful towards Gimpel and hence towards his nationality because Gimpel was the spokesman of the pains-suffering Jews. Like the way he was treated by people in the small town, the Jews are treated so by the world. The writer wanted to laugh at people who looked down upon, made fun of and tried to get rid of the Jews by the mouth of Gimpel. How sharp and wise he was!
As a faithful follower of God, Gimpel believed his endurance, restraint and generosity would compensate for the hardships he suffered after death. “…. I will go joyfully. Whatever may be there, it will be real, without complication, without ridicule, without deception. God be praised: there even Gimpel cannot be deceived”. Every time when I read the ending, I felt sad and hadt tears in eyes: in our daily life, there isn’t only one Gimpel, they stooped to comprise and endued all kinds of hardships just in order to be accepted and made their life happy.
The whole article is obsessed with an atmosphere of endurance and restraint. As a Jew, Gimpel showed his absolute obedience to God, and the spirit of suffering when hardships came. It’s said that there are only two nationalities greet each other with the word “peace”---Jews is the one. The meaning they express is that “may peace descent on you”. After so many hardships, the Jews still hold “peace” as their eternal belief, as they are told in Bible; they wish peace exist not only in the Jews also in every corner of the world: including people who had hurt them. It’s because of this kind of spirit the Jews exist vigorously and prosperously.
Singer is called as “the best story-teller”. As his name suggests, the author himself is really a singer for the Jews. He said that he wrote those Jews not because they are Jews who speak Yiddish, but he is interested in their love, betrayal, hope and disappointment. His “songs” for the Jews not only won our sympathy, but also displayed the national spirit of them. In this story, he adopted his usual way of telling “black humor”, making the readers cry in laughter.
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