Bialik submitted Aryeh Baal Guf (Big Harry) to Asher Ginsburg , better known by his pseudonym Aḥad Ha-am, the editor of Ha-Shiloaḥ, in 1898. In his cover letter, he stated that "the main character of this sketch is a certain baal guf. This is the nickname bestowed by the masses of Volhynia (southwestern Russia) upon every vulgar ignoramus who had become wealthy and yet remained brutish." "Big Harry" despises the "soft" gentry of his town and despairs of ever being admitted into their circle. His wife, however, avidly strives to attain the status of a "fine lady" and entices him to erect an elegant home and invite the town's leading citizens to a sumptuous housewarming party. Their attempt at social climbing ends in a dismal failure. The couple becomes an object of derision to both rich and poor. Bialik explains to Aḥad Ha-am that the baal guf is a stock comic character in the lore of the backward towns of Volhynia, replacing the "tax farmer" of former generations as the butt of laughter. "He has not yet," he averred, been "adequately depicted in our literature."
Bialik aptly referred to the work as a "sketch" rather than a story. Harry, his wife, his sons, and the rest of its characters are "flat." They remain unchanged throughout the narrative. On the other hand, Bialik's keen descriptive powers and his sense of the grotesque are remarkable. He shows an uncanny ability to transform Harry's folksy Yiddish vulgarisms into Hebrew, despite the fact that Hebrew was not yet a spoken language. In