The Ambiguity in I.B. Singer’s “Gimpel the Fool”
In Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story “Gimpel the Fool” the question of the main character’s foolishness is in a constant state of ambiguity. Given Gimpel’s knowing internal dialog, it seems that at least his thought process is not that of fool. Yet, his willingness to play his role in even the most ridiculous schemes hints toward a total void of judgment on his part. This pattern of very aware thoughts followed by foolish actions and excessive passivism seems deliberate in the story and continually poses the question: Is Gimpel a fool? The answer will likely depend on the reader’s theological disposition and where they draw the line between gullibility and faith.
Both the title and the first line of the story state that Gimpel is a fool. The uncertainty of how to view him begins instantly when in the second line he states “I don’t think myself a fool” (3). This is also the first bit of insight into the fact that he is not at all oblivious to the other character’s jokes and motives. He knows he is being tricked, which in most stories would indicate a clever character who maintains the upper hand. Gimpel contradicts this by willingly becoming the butt of everyone’s jokes. This uncertainty is one of the most powerful things about the story because it challenges the reader to weigh Gimpel’s morals and honesty in one hand, and his apathy in the other. The reader must search themself and make his or her own judgment as to whether or not Gimpel is a fool. A person of devote religious beliefs might respect his reverence for God, while a nonreligious person might see his leaps of faith as naïve. The confusion continues as he hopes that believing the people’s antics at least “did them some good” (4). This statement and many others like it, speak to his good nature and subtly attempts to persuade us that he is the true hero of this tale and therefore not a fool. Yet even saint...