Neifile’s Tale in Boccaccio’s Decameron
The second story of Day 1 in Boccaccio’s Decameron is about a Jew named Abraham who becomes a Christian after his friend, Jehannot, convinces him to visit the court of Rome. At first glance, the storyteller, Neifile, presents it as a tale of a Jew’s conversion. On closer inspection, it becomes evident that the story focuses on language, labels, and popularity. In Neifile’s story, Boccaccio represents language as a way of labeling socially unpopular religious ideology (like Judaism) as more acceptable doctrine (like Christianity), a fact that Abraham takes advantage of to increase his popularity in order to conform to society.
Before she even begins her story, Neifile sets up a dichotomy…show more content…
Second, within this same introductory comment, Neifile uses similar logic to establish why Abraham has not yet converted. With the mention of the phrase "in word," Neifile suggests that Abraham has not seen God’s "loving-kindness" partly because he has not declared witnessing it. Right from the start of the story, Neifile implies that Abraham’s conversion hinges not on his beliefs or convictions, but on his verbal acknowledgement of Christianity. Abraham, however, is adamant in his refusal to convert. He considers "no faith to be sound and holy except the Jewish" (1.2.38), which means that the act of conversion to him is undesirable. In the story, however, the impression given by Neifile’s comment is that Abraham must simply say that he has converted; he does not have to embrace any ideological changes to his beliefs. Here, the fact that expression of Christianity is more important than actual conversion emphasizes the notion that labels can almost instantaneously transform a person from one state (unconverted) to another (converted).
Even early on, Abraham begins to reveal some of the reasons why he wants to be labeled differently from his present label as a Jew. In his initial attempts to convince Abraham to abandon Judaism, Jehannot tries to show him, "in the sort of homespun language for which most merchants have a natural bent, on what grounds [his] faith was superior to the Jewish"