Monday, April 13, 2009

"Gimpel the Fool" by Isaac Bashevis Singer

I'm having a difficult time setting down "The Reign of the Phallus" so I can finish "The Golden Ass." Just a recommendation - anyone interested in women's history, women's studies, or how the past possesses the present for women - "Reign of the Phallus" is great! The MSU library didn't have a copy, but I was able to order it from Amazon for just a few dollars.

Today during class Dr. Sexson mentioned "Gimpel the Fool," and how it relates to Lucius, when he is unwittingly involved in the Festival of Laughter, the whole town knew what was going on, but Lucius was unaware, and is mortified when he learns he has been made a fool of; he had cried when he was on trial for the "murder" of the three men (who or which turned out to be bladders, or wine-skins). What I understand from notes/summaries about "Gimpel" is that although he seems to be a fool for what he believes or chooses not to believe, he understands that is how others see him and ignores them. He marries a women with one bastard son that the townspeople say is really her little brother, after their marriage she won't let him sleep with her, has another baby a few months later, and even though he catches her in bed with a man, she denies it. She has 6 more children, and on her deathbed confesses that none of them are his.
He knows the townspeople know all of this, he urinates into the dough of the bread he bakes for the village - but changes his mind after a dream where his wife tells him she is paying for her deceit. He leaves the village and becomes a storyteller and people outside his village treat him well. He begins to "spin yarns - improbable things that could never have happened" and children ask him to tell his stories.

A couple notes - "Gimpel" was written in Yiddish and has Jewish themes of the individual's search for faith and guidance in a cruel world...explored in parable form with details common to folktales. The character of Gimpel is an example of the "schlemiel" - a foolish, unlucky man, common to Jewish lore, whose follies are delineated in order to present a moral lesson. That connects to "The Golden Ass" which was written as a religious novel. Since I haven't finished it, I guess I'll see how Lucius's story is completed.

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