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Literature & Language
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Book Review
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The Gentleman from Cracow (Book Review Sample)

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This is a book review of Isaac B. Singer\'s \"The Gentleman from Cracow\".

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The Gentleman from Cracow
Author's name
Institution's name
The Gentleman from Cracow
In 1978, Isaac Bashevis Singer became the first Yiddish to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. The polish-born American writer, essayist, novelist, and short-story author is an epic writer who has written many famous works of literature. Singer sets his literary work in the orthodox Polish life, especially before the Holocaust, and explores the role played by the Jewish faith and norms in his fictional characters' lives. The Gentleman from Cracow is one of the several masterpieces that portray Singer's ability as an epic story-teller. In this story, Singer narrates the story of the people of Frampol, which is a polish village in a remote countryside where poor peasants struggle with impoverishment. The author shows, through a great literary style, how the Frampol people were ensnared by a treacherous devil masquerading as a wealthy savior. Singer demonstrates how the Jewish people, caught in an evil time of drought, fall into materialism and evil ways of life. The Gentleman from Cracow is a literary masterpiece that portrays, in the Jewish faith, how appearances may not be realities, how moral humans are vulnerable to temptations and materialism, how salvation is realized, and finally, how good reigns over evil.
Singer develops his epic narrative, The Gentleman from Cracow, carefully into an introductory part, a description of the conflict, and a conclusion. In the introductory part of this essay, the author develops the background and setting of the narrative. The author introduces Frampol, a fictitious, extremely impoverished village, but in which the people observe morality. The only asset in Frampol is the children, who bloom with time into strong, tall, handsome boys and beautiful girls. Frampol falls into an evil time as it is stricken by drought and famine, devastating climatic effects that are accompanied by hailstorms and supernatural events such as the huge locusts that traverse the area after the storms. After introducing the setting of the story, Singer then avails the conflict to the reader.
While in the fierce grip of destitution and famine, a mysterious, young, handsome man arrives in Frampol. The unexpected man arrives in Frampol in pomp and color and is dressed in fine clothes and driven in a carriage towed by eight horses. This is ‘the man from Cracow', and he explains to Frampol citizens that he is a widower, and a doctor who has travelled to seek a new life. On arrival, ‘the man from Cracow' lavishes the Frampol people with food, bread, and money. ‘The man from Cracow' is a phenomenon in Frampol, and he soon changes not only the economic life of Frampol, but also the social life and morals of the people. The man replenishes the prosperity of Frampol, and the people turn to gambling and playing cards, violating the Jewish religious sanctions. The ‘Cracow man' promises to marry a lady from Frampol, and all the women, and also their daughters, get into a frenzy, hoping to marry the mysterious, munificent suitor. The magnanimous man from Cracow lures the Frampol people to a great ball, an orgy of sensuality and dancing, in which he would select a wife among the eligible Frampol women. Elders in the Frampol society protest against this ball saying that the Jewish tradition does not permit such festivities. The Rabbi (the religious leader in Judaism, the Jewish religion) objects to the parading of women as prostitutes by the Cracow doctor, and warns the people that the ball is evil. The people do not heed to the elders or the Rabbi, and at the height of debauchery in the feast, the mysterious stranger from Cracow reveals his identity as Satan. He sets fire on the town in a rainstorm of lightning bolts. The Rabbi redeems Frampol by driving out the treacherous devil, and in the conclusion, the people of Frampol return to observing Jewish morals and traditions, and the memory of ‘the man from Cracow' is retained as folklore.
The Gentleman from Cracow tells more than just a story of a Jewish village and Satan. Rather, Singer explores various themes in the literary masterpiece. First, the story explains the theme of appearance versus reality. Evil in general is a recurring topic in Singer's work, and devils, evil spirits, imps, and, and other evil characters populate many of his essays. In the foregoing work, the man from Cracow is the devil, but he is disguised as a wealthy and benevolent man. The man from Cracow is the devil. The Jewish faith warns people to beware of the devil and fight against him. The Jewish faith holds that the devil is the cause of evil. The people of Frampol are well-informed on the devil and his schemes. They have eyes, but are unable to distinguish evil. The devil rode into Frampol disguised as a wealthy doctor. His magnanimity takes the Frampol people by surprise. They view him as the hope of the village, and hold him in high regard. The people see that the mysterious man eats Sabbath pudding on the week days, and he plays cards instead of attending prayer, which is prohibited in Jewish faith, but they are blinded by his appearance. Notably, in the title of the story, the author regards to the mysterious man as a “gentleman” to portray the identity his appearance creates among the Frampol people. The people are taken by surprise when they face the fact that the stranger is the devil. Singer's story is henceforth a good literary portrayal that appearances are not realities.
Singer's story also portrays how humans, regardless of how deep they are entrenched in good morals and strong faiths, are vulnerable to temptations. Before the arrival of the rich and generous man in Frampol, the village was engulfed in utter poverty, and was in a dire situation of destitution compounded by a severe grip of drought. In this hard time, the Jewish community in Frampol is tested by the arrival of the Cracow doctor, the devil in disguise. The Jewish faith holds that the devil uses many schemes to test the virtues of the righteous. The devastating situation in which the Frampol Jews are is the perfect setting for their faith to be tested. This is because, in the fierce grip of poverty and famine, the people are most vulnerable to temptations. The devil does not have to do a lot to lure Frampol's people into evil ways. Using food and generosity, the disguised devil introduces gambling in the Frampol society and robs the people their righteousness and welcomes them into the world of enjoying worldly things and actions. The people do not heed the caution of Rabbi Ozer, and throw their caution to the wind in accepting to attend the devils' feast. The Frampol people feast with the devil and lose all their moral restraint. Through this story, The Gentleman from Cracow dramatizes how humans long for righteousness and the sacred, but with a little temptation, people reveal their proclivity to desecration. Singer, through this story, portrays the duality of human nature as sacred and impious. In this dual form of human nature, temptations, especially in dire situations when people are most vulnerable, can influence the change of morals from piety to impiety.
Another important theme in Singer's narrative is materialism and the human lust for money and wealth. The wealthy and generous Cracow doctor arrives in Frampol at a time of great hardship and bewitches the people with his money. Like a plague, the lust for money spreads among the people of Frampol, and all the women begin contemplating marrying the foreign suitor. Gambling is a social disease introduced by the Cracow man Frampol, and it is also evidence of materialism and the desire for money and wealth. Even when the devil is driven away, and the people of Frampol return to piety and the people are content with their past destitution, the lust for money still persists. In the aftermath of the Cracow incident, the author explains that whenever a tailor or a shoe-worker in the Frampol society asked for an exorbitant price for his or her services, he would be told “Go to the gentleman from Cracow, and he will give you buckets of gold” (Singer, 1983, p. 26) . This indicates that the Frampol people retained the story of the man from Cracow as folklore, and integrated it into their language to criticize the lust for money.
The Gentleman from Cracow conveys the message that salvation does not come from the unexpected arrival of a Savior-like stranger, but by sustenance of moral values and observance of religious traditions. The idea of salvation forms a great part of the Judaism faith. Jews expect a Messiah, their savior, to arrive at any opportune moment and save the righteous. The man from Cracow arrives in Frampol at a time in which the people had suffered enough. On arrival, he offers immediate help by providing food, which is one thing that the Frampol people need most. The people had enough reason to think the man from Cracow was the savior, and they swarmed to him as he handed out money. As Singer writes, “From the poorhouse gate the beggars came, crowding about him as he distributed alms- three groszy, six groszy, half-gulden pieces. The stranger was clearly a gift from heaven, and Frampol was not destined to vanish” (Singer, 1983, p. 14). This account portrays expert use of imagination and detail, and it paints the picture of the arrival of the savior in the Jewish village of Frampol. In another scene, Rabbi Ozer, having spent the night of Cracow man's apocalyptic feast in his house, wakes up thinking that the Messiah arrived. The Rabbi observes that the sky was intensely red and hears sounds analogous to wild beast howls. He then ponders over whether the Messiah has arrived, and why he had not heard the ram's horn that would ...
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