English Composition


“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?


Tough Turkeys

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.


Sting Rays

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



Whole Grain

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.


Rough Riders

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”


Rough Riders

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?   


Sting Rays

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. 


Tough Turkeys

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



Whole Grain

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?