“Gimpel the Fool” Discussion Questions
1. Consider what the rabbi tells Gimpel: “It is written, better to be a fool all your days
than for one hour to be evil” (para. 6). Weigh these words against the cruel actions
of the townspeople. Do you find the rabbi’s words convincing? Is Gimpel a fool?
How, if ever, does the story distinguish between foolishness and faith?
2. How does the devil figure in the story? What aspects of human nature does
his presence represent? Much of Singer’s fiction stresses moral and ethical
dilemma. In addition to outlining the devil’s representation of human consciousness,
talk a bit about the underlying meaning of Gimpel’s moral crisis.
3. Gimpel’s dark night of the soul with the devil only accounts for one conflict in the
story. Locate others: internal, external, mundane, and supernatural. How do
these conflicts contribute to the big critical moment where Gimpel faces the Evil
4. Discuss the two distinct ways in which Gimpel is an outsider in the story. In other
words, how does Gimpel both transform and maintain his status as an outsider in the
story. Secondly, how is Elka an outsider? More to the point, how is Elka a rebel?
For this last point, be sure to consider the context and setting of the tale.
5. Toward the end of the story, Gimpel says to Elka, “Let me be with you.” How do you
read this statement, as mere folly or a mark of change? If the latter, who has changed,
him or her? How does Gimpel’s remark possibly indicate redemption for either or both of them?
Discussion Questions for “The Devil and Irv Cherniske”
1. Trace the theme of greed and materialism in the story. Locate passages in the text in which these ideas
come to the surface. Explain how all major and minor characters best demonstrate these themes? Also,
pinpoint at least two or three symbols of greed. How do these symbols add depth and complexity
to the theme by indicating the various facets which comprise it?
2. In addition to greed and excessive desire, what does the devil’s appearance in Boyle’s
story symbolize? In other words, discuss precisely how the devil represents greed and
at least three other “lowdown,” nefarious traits, not unlike those he embodies in
“Gimpel the Fool.” Besides the figure in the dark suburban woods, who else
represents a Satanic force in Irv’s life? Explain this character’s significance to the
story’s themes and to the other main characters.
3. “The Devil and Irv Cherniske” makes a critical comment on social alienation
(disconnection). In Irv’s neighborhood, people live relatively close to each other, but
emotionally and psychologically they are far apart. How specifically in the story do
folks in the suburb and in the Cherniske household alienate each other? Also, how
does the devil’s look and scent contribute to this theme of alienation?
4. Scholars define allegory as a narrative in which nearly every character and literal
object holds meaning which lies outside the text. Allegories take the form of
parables, fables, fairy tales, stories and novels and often, though not always, involve
supernatural events. How is Boyle’s tale allegorical, if not a pure allegory? Pinpoint
at least two specific places in the text to show where the story assumes an obvious
symbolic (and fantastical) quality and analyze their critical comment about the
characters and about society in general. Finally, seeing as how allegories are
cautionary tales with an apparent moral note, explain what and who Boyle’s narrator
5. How can we read the devil as figurative, as a figment of Irv’s consciousness and
personality? What evidence in the text suggests this interpretation? How does the
text at the same time undermine, if not altogether, demolishes this possibility? In
other words, is the story literal, figurative, or both? If both, how so?