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Subject: 2.4….resources to use and this assignment you will explore how characters from three stories might define the “good life” or a “well-lived life.” You will also discuss what scripture says about a well-lived life and how you might apply various definitions of a well-lived life to your own personal or professional journey.Upon successful completion of this assignment you will be able to:
Explain how characterization is used to communicate versions of a well-lived life.Apply literary discoveries about human nature to your own personal/professional life.Resources
Textbook: Pearson Custom Introduction to LiteratureBible: InstructionsRead Isaac Bashevis Singer’s biography here.Read Singer’s “Gimpel the Fool” (pp. 106-115).Review Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-paper” (pp. 60-73) as needed.Review Cather’s “Neighbour Rosicky” (pp. 77-101) as needed.Answer the following questions:
List two character traits possessed by Gimpel at the beginning of the story. Support your answer with specific reference to the story.Identify an antagonist (or challenge) that Gimpel is faced with in the story. Support your answer with specific reference to the story.How has Gimpel changed (or what has he learned) by the end of the story? Support your answer with specific reference to the story.Give one example of a way in which it could be argued that Gimpel is a fool.Give one example of a way in which it could be argued that Gimpel is not a fool.What message or theme do you think is implied by the story?Identify two literary devices that are used in the story, and give an example of each.Write a thesis statement for the story in the format that you have learned in this class.How do you think Gimpel would define a well-lived life? Use at least one quote from the story to support your answer.Choose a character from “The Yellow Wall-paper” or “Neighbour Rosicky” and explain how you think that character would define a well-lived life. Use at least one quote from the story to support your answer.Choose either Gimpel or the character you chose in the previous question, and identify the values implied in that character’s definition of a well-lived life. Evaluate these values from a biblical perspective, including at least one biblical quotation. (Use to help you locate relevant scriptures.)What is your personal definition of a well-lived life? Explain your answer.What do you think are the main barrier(s) or challenge(s) that hinder you from living your personal definition of a well-lived life?Identify how one of these stories suggests possible ways to resolve barriers or challenges to experiencing a well-lived life.


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Isaac Bashevis Singer
Poland/United States
T saac Bashevis Singer, the world’s foremost writer in Yiddish, is a difficult author to
JLcategorize because his fiction resists easy labeling within either American or Yiddish
literary traditions. Coming from a family of rabbis (his father and both grandfathers),
Singer almost became a rabbi himself; he attended a rabbinical school and seminary
but decided not to become a rabbi because “I began to doubt, not the power of God,
but all the traditions and dogmas.”
Instead, when he was 15, he began to write, inspired by the stories he heard from his
family: his father’s, populated with imps, devils, and miraculous events, and his moth’
er’s, recalling her childhood in the shtetl (Jewish ghetto) ofBilgorai, Poland. In 1935,
fearing the threat of a Nazi invasion of Poland, Singer followed his older brother (also
a writer, I. ]. Singer) to the United States. Many of his stories first appeared in the Yiddish newspaper for which he worked in New York City, the Jewish Daily Forward.
Singer wrote first in Hebrew but changed to Yiddish because Hebrew (before its
revival as the national language of Israel) was a dead language. Ironically, it is now
Yiddish that is in danger of dying. Irving Howe has observed the following:
[Singer wrote in] a language that no amount of energy or affection seems likely to save
from extinction. He [wrote] about a world that is gone, destroyed with a brutality beyond historical comparison. He [wrote] within a culture, the remnant of Yiddish in the
Western world, that [was] more than a little dubious about his purpose and stress….
It strikes one as a kind of inspired madness: here [u>asj a man living in New York City,
a sophisticated and clever writer, who compose[d] stories about places like Frampol, Bilgoray, Kreshev, as if they were still there.
Although he considered writing in English, Singer stayed with Yiddish because he felt
that “a writer has to write in his own language or not at all.” Inevitably, much is lost
in translation; Howe notes that “no translation . . . could possibly suggest the full idiomatic richness and syntactical verve of Singer’s Yiddish.”
Singer’s stories are moral fables or allegories, set in the shtetls and villages of nineteenth- and twentieth-century prewar Poland. Although magical and supernatural
events may frequent them, his narratives are about people struggling with the very
human emotional and moral challenges of ordinary life: love and lust, sin and responsibility, faith and doubt, madness and sanity, good and evil, As Singer commented in
an interview, “I actually believe that there are powers in this world of which we have
no inkling but which have an influence on our lives and on our way of thinking.”
Although Singer was a prolific writer of stories for both adults and children, many
of them have not yet been translated into English, even though the author translated
many of his stories himself. “Gimpel the Fool,” considered by many critics to be his finest
story, brought Singer an audience of English-speaking readers when it was translated
by Saul Bellow. When Singer received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978, the
Nobel Committee praised his “impassioned narrative art which, with roots in a PolishJewish cultural tradition, brings universal human conditions to life.”
Gimpel the Fool
Translated by
I am Gimpel the fool. I don’t think myself a fool. On the conttary. But that’s what
folks call me. They gave me the name while I was still in school. I had seven names
in all: imbecile, donkey, flax-head, dope, glump, ninny, and fool. The last name stuck.
What did my foolishness consist of? 1 was easy to take in. They said, “Gimpel, you
know the rabbi’s wife has been brought to childbed?” So I skipped school. Well, it
turned out to be a lie. How was I supposed to know? She hadn’t had a big belly. But
I never looked at her belly. Was that really so foolish? The gang laughed and heehawed, stomped and danced and chanted a good-night prayer. And instead of the
raisins they give when a woman’s lying in, they stuffed my hand full of goat turds. I
was no weakling. If I slapped someone he’d see all the way to Cracow. But I’m really not a slugget by nature. I think to myself: Let it pass. So they take advantage of me.
I was coming home from school and heard a dog barking. I’m not afraid of dogs,
but of course I never want to start up with them. One of them may be mad, and if he
bites there’s not a Tartar in the world who can help you. So I made tracks. Then I
looked around and saw the whole market place wild with laughter. It was no dog at
all but Wolf-Leib the thief. How was I supposed to know it was he? It sounded like a
howling bitch.
When the pranksters and leg-pullers found that I was easy to fool, every one of
them tried his luck with me. “Gimpel, the czar is coming to Frampol; Gimpel, the
moon fell down in Turbeen; Gimpel, little Hodel Furpiece found a treasure behind
the bathhouse.” And I like a golem1 believed everyone. In the first place, everything
is possible, as it is written in The Wisdom of the Fathers, I’ve forgotten just how. Second, I had to believe when the whole town came down on me! If I ever dared to say,
“Ah, you’re kidding!” there was trouble. People got angry. “What do you mean! You
want to call everyone a liar?” What was I to do? I believed them, and I hope at least
that did them some good.
I was an orphan. My grandfather who brought me up was already bent toward the
grave. So they turned me over to a baker, and what a time they gave me there! Every
woman or girl who came to bake a batch of noodles had to fool me at least once.
“Gimpel, there’s a fair in. Heaven; Gimpel, the rabbi gave birth to a calf in the seventh month; Gimpel, a cow flew over the roof and laid brass eggs.” A student from
the yeshiva came once to buy a roll, and he said, “You, Gimpel, while you stand here
scraping with your baker’s shovel the Messiah has come. The dead have arisen.”
“What do you mean?” I said. “I heard no one blowing the ram’s horn!” He said, “Are
you deaf” And all began to cry, “We heard it, we heard!” Then in came Rietze the
candle-dipper and called out in her hoarse voice, “Gimpel, your father and mother
have stood up from the grave, They’re looking for you.”
To tell the truth, I knew very well that nothing .of the sort had happened, but all
the same, as folks were talking, I threw on my wool vest and went out. Maybe something had happened. What did I stand to lose by looking? Well, what a cat music
golem According to Jewish legend, a man artificially created by cabalistic rites; a robot or automaton.
Gimpel the Fool
went up! And then I took a vow to believe nothing more. But that was no go either
They confused me so that I didn’t know the big end from the small.
1 went to the rabbi to get some advice. He said, “It is written, better to be a fb0l
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.” Nevertheless, the
rabbi’s daughter took me in. As I left the rabbinical court she said, “Have you kissed
the’wall yet?” I said, “No, what for?” She answered, “It’s the law; you’ve got to do it
after every visit.” Well, there didn’t seem to be any harm in it. And she burst out
laughing. It was a fine trick. She put one over on me, all right.
I wanted to go off to another town, but then everyone got busy matchmaking
and they wete after rne so they nearly tore my coat tails off. They talked at me and
talked until I got water on the ear. She was no chaste maiden, but they told me she
was virgin pure. She had a limp, and they said it was deliberate, from coyness. She
had a bastard, and they told me the child was her little brother. I cried, “You’re wasting your time. I’ll never marry that whore.” But they said indignantly, “What a way
to talk! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself. We can take you to the rabbi and have you
fined for giving her a bad name.” I saw then that I wouldn’t escape them so easily and
I thought: They’re set on making me their butt. But when you’re married the husband’s
the master, and if that’s all right with her it’s agreeable to me too. Besides, you can’t
pass through life unscathed, nor expect to.
I went to her clay house, which was built on the sand, and the whole gang, hollering and chorusing, carne after me. They acted like bear-baiters. When we came to
the well they stopped all the same. They were afraid to start anything with Elka. Her
mouth would open as if it were on a hinge, and she had a fierce tongue. I entered the
house. Lines were strung from wall to wall and clothes were drying. Barefoot she
stood by the tub, doing the wash. She was dressed in a worn hand-me-down gown of
plush. She had her hair put up in braids and pinned across her head. It took my breath
away, almost, the reek of it all.
Evidently she knew who I was. She took a look at me and said, “Look who’s here!
He’s come, the drip. Grab a seat.”
I told her all; I denied nothing. “Tell me the truth,” I said, “are you really a virgin,
and is that mischievous Yechiel actually your little brother? Don’t be deceitful with
me, for I’m an orphan.”
“I’m an orphan myself,” she answered, “and whoever tries to twist you up, may
the end of his nose take a twist. But don’t let them think they can take advantage of
me. I want a dowry of fifty guilders, and let them take up a collection besides. Otherwise they can kiss my you-know-what.” She was very plainspoken. I said, “It’s the
bride and not the groom who gives a dowry.” Then she said, “Don’t bargain with me.
Either a flat yes or a flat no. Go back where you came from.”
I thought: No bread will ever be baked from this dough. But ours is not a poor
town. They consented to everything and proceeded with the wedding. It so happened that there was a dysentery epidemic at the time. The ceremony was held at
the cemetery gates, near the little corpse-washing hut. The fellows got drunk. While
the marriage contract was being drawn up I heard the most pious high rabbi ask, “Is
the bride a widow or a divorced woman?” And the sexton’s wife answered for her,
“Both a widow and divorced.” It was a black moment for me. But what was I to do,
run away from under the marriage canopy?
There was singing and dancing. An old granny danced opposite me, hugging a
bride’s parents. The schoolboys threw burrs, as on Tishe b’Av’ fast day. There were a
lot of gifts after the sermon: a noodle board, a kneading trough, a bucket, brooms, ladles, household articles galore. Then I took a look and saw two strapping young men
carrying a crib. “What do we need this for?” I asked. So they said, “Don’t rack your
brains about it. It’s all right, it’ll come in handy.” I realized I was going to be rooked.
Take it another way though, what did I stand to lose? I reflected: I’ll see what comes
of it. A whole town can’t go altogether crazy.
At night I came where my wife lay, but she wouldn’t let me in. “Say, look here, is this
what they married us for?” I said. And she said, “My monthly has come.” “But yesterday they took you to the ritual bath, and that’s afterwards, isn’t it supposed to be?”
“Today isn’t yesterday,” said she, “and yesterday’s not today. You can beat it if you
don’t like it.” In short, I waited.
Not four months later, she was in childbed. The townsfolk hid their laughter with
their knuckles. But what could I do? She suffered intolerable pains and clawed at the
walls. “Gimpel,” she cried, “I’m going. Forgive me!” The house filled with women.
They were boiling pans of water. The screams rose to the welkin.
The thing to do was to go to the house of prayer to repeat psalms, and that was what
I did.
The townsfolk liked that, all right. I stood in a corner saying psalms and prayers,
and they shook their heads at me. “Pray, pray!” they told me. “Prayer never made
any woman pregnant.” One of the congregation put a straw to my mouth and said,
“Hay for the cows.” There was something to that too, by God!
She gave birth to a boy. Friday at the synagogue the sexton stood up befpre the Ark,
pounded on the reading table, and announced, “The wealthy Reb Gimpel invites
the congregation to a feast in honor of the birth of a son.” The whole house of prayer
rang with laughter. My face was flaming. But there was nothing I could do. After all,
I was the one responsible for the circumcision honors and rituals.
Half the town came running. You couldn’t wedge another soul in. Women brought
peppered chick-peas, and there was a keg of beer from the tavern. I ate and drank
as much as anyone, and they all congratulated me. Then there was a circumcision,
and I named the boy after my father, may he rest in peace. When all were gone and
I was left with my wife alone, she thrust her head through the bed-curtain and called
me to her.
“Gimpel,” said she, “why are you silent? Has your ship gone and sunk?”
“What shall I say,” I answered. “A fine thing you’ve done to me! If my mother
had known of it she’d have died a second time.”
She said, “Are you crazy, or what?”
“How can you make such a fool,” I said, “of one who should be the lord and
“What’s the matter with you?” she said. “What have you taken it into your head
to imagine?”
A Jewish fast day commemorating the destruction of the Temple, celebrated on the ninth
day of the month of Ab.
I saw that I must speak bluntly and openly. “Do you think this is the way to use
. an orphan?” I. said. “You have borne a bastard.”
She answered, “Drive this foolishness out of your head. The child is yours.”
“How can he be mine?” I argued. “He was bom seventeen weeks after the wedding.”
She told me then that he was premature. I said, “Isn’t he a little too premature?”
She safd, she had had a grandmother who carried just as short a time and she resembled this grandmother of hers as one drop of water does another. She swore to it with
such oaths that you would have believed a peasant at the fair if he had used them.
To tell the plain truth, I didn’t believe her; but when I talked it over next day with
the schoolmaster, he told me that the very same thing had happened to Adam and
Eve. Two they went up to bed, and four they descended.
“There isn’t a woman in the world who is not the granddaughter of Eve,” he said.
That was how it was; they argued me dumb. But then, who really knows how such
things are?
I began to forget my sorrow. I loved the child madly, and he loved me too. As soon
as he saw me he’d wave his little hands and want me to pick him up, and when he
was colicky I was the only one who could pacify him. I bought him a little bone
teething ring and a little gilded cap. He was forever catching the evil eye from someone, and then I had to run to get one of those abracadabras for him that would get
him out of it. I worked like an ox. You know how expenses go up when there’s an infant in the house. I don’t want to lie about it; I didn’t dislike Elka either, for that
matter. She swore at me and cursed, and I couldn’t get enough of her. What strength
she had! One of her looks could rob you of the power of speech. And her orations!
Pitch and sulphur, that’s what they were full of, and yet somehow also full of charm.
I adored her every word. She gave me bloody wounds though.
In the evening I brought her a white loaf as well as a dark one, and also poppyseed rolls I baked myself. I thieved because of her and swiped everything I could lay
hands on: macaroons, raisins, almonds, cakes. I hope I may be forgiven for stealing
from the Saturday pots the women left to warm in the baker’s oven. I would take out
scraps of meat, a chunk of pudding, a chicken leg or head, a piece of tripe, whatever
I could nip quickly. She ate and became fat and handsome.
I had to sleep away from home all during the week, at the bakery. On Friday nights
when I got home she always made an excuse of some sort. Either she had heartburn,
or a stitch in the side, or hiccups, or headaches. You know what women’s excuses
are. I had a bitter time of it. It was rough. To add to it, this little brother of hers, the
bastard, was growing bigger. He’d put lumps on me, and when I wanted to hit back
she’d open her mouth and curse so powerfully I saw a green haze floating before my
eyes. Ten times a day she threatened to divorce me. Another man in my place would
have taken French leave and disappeared. But I’m the type that bears it and says
nothing. What’s one to do? Shoulders are from God, and burdens too.
One night there was a calamity in the bakery; the oven burst, and we almost had
a fire. There was nothing to do but go home, so I went home. Let me, I thought, also
taste the joy of sleeping in bed in midweek. I didn’t want to wake the sleeping mite
and tiptoed into the house. Coming in, it seemed to me that I heard not. the snoring of one but, as it were, a double snore, one a thin enough snore and the other like
the snoring of a slaughtered ox. Oh. I didn’t like that! I didn’t like it at all. I went
up to the bed, and things suddenly turned black. Next to Elka lay a man’s form. Another in my place would have made an uproar, and enough noise to rouse the whole
town, but the thought occurred to me that 1 might wake the child. A little thing like
Gimpel the Fool
that—why frighten a little swallow, I thought. All right then, I went back to the bakery and stretched out on a sack of flour and till morning I never shut an eye. I shivered as if I had had malaria. “Enough of being a donkey,” I said to myself. “Gimpel
isn’t going to be a sucker all his life. There’s a limit even to the foolishness of a fool
like Gimpel.”
In the morning I went to the rabbi to get advice, and it made a great commotion
in the town. They sent the beadle for Elka right away. She came, carrying the child.
And what do you think she did? She denied it, denied everything, bone and stone!
“He’s out of his head,” she said. “I know nothing of dreams or divinations.” They
yelled at her, warned her, hammered on the table, but she stuck to her guns: it was a
false accusation, she said.
The butchers and the horse-traders took her part. One of the lads from the
slaughterhouse came by and said to me, “We’ve got our eye on you, you’re a marked
man.” Meanwhile, the child started to bear down and soiled itself. In the rabbinical court there was an Ark of the Covenant, and they couldn’t allow that, so they
sent Elka away.
I said to the rabbi, “What shall I do?”
“You must divorce her at once,” said he.
“And what if she refuses?” 1 asked.
He said, “You must serve the divorce. That’s all you’ll have to do.”
I said, “Well, all right, Rabbi. Let me think about it.”
“There’s nothing to think about,” said he. “You mustn’t remain under the same roof
with her.”
“And if I want to see the child?” I asked.
“Let her go, the harlot,” said he, “and her brood of bastards with her.”
The verdict he gave was that I mustn’t even cross her threshold—never again, as
long as I should live.
During the day it didn’t bother me so much. I thought: It was bound to happen,
the abscess had to burst. But at night when I stretched out upon the sacks I felt it all
very bitterly. A longing took me, for her and for the child. I wanted to be angry, but
that’s my misfortune exactly, 1 don’t have it in me to be really angry. In the first
place—this was how my thoughts went—thete’s bound to be a slip sometimes. You
can’t live without errors. Probably that lad who was with her led her on and gave her
presents and what not, and women are often long on hair and short on sense, and so
he got around her. And then since she denies it so, maybe 1 was only seeing things?
Hallucinations do happen. You see a figure or a mannikin or something, but when you
come up closer it’s nothing, there’s not a thing there. And if that’s so, I’m doing her
an injustice. And when I got so far in my thoughts I started to weep. I s …
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