Thursday, November 27, 2014

Critical Analysis of Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor: The Four Challenges

In this post I am going to share with the reader a critical analysis of Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor. A Country Doctor is a narrative account that presents professional, moral, and psychological aspects of human self. First I discuss the major themes of the story; it is followed by my reaction on the four challenges faced by the doctor and the frustrations accompanying these challenges; then I analyze important aspects of the story which can help analyze it as a nightmare.

The Central Themes in A Country Doctor

The main themes of the text are traceable in the light of at least two contemporary influences on Franz Kafka.

1.      The first one, his symbolic illustration of Jewish folklore in his writings, in connection to life that was in then Europe (the time of Kafka’s life);

2.      The other influence is Kafka’s predisposition toward the growing popularity of the tradition of psychoanalysis (essentially Freudian) and its troublesome interpretation of human sexuality and sexual tensions in general life.

These two themes construct a complicated picture in the story that represents quite a few social and psychological predicaments shown to us around the short life account of the doctor, the central character of the story.

It is essentially these two influences (Jewish folklore and Freudian psychoanalysis) that produce several sub-themes in the narrative. For example, it would probably be very rational to follow Lorenz who states that the character of the doctor is Kafka’s masterful depiction of a mixture of “divergent models” that signify, sexual desire, manhood, civilization, and feebleness that one may feel while making just one straight decision or choice.

It is this situation that makes the doctor feel lost while he confronts his psychological predicaments.

One more important theme is the changeover that (seemingly) the Jew doctor feels between his conventional position and the strains of the human flesh. Therefore, when we see the doctor emerging as the hostile groom, this is in fact the vicious side of the doctor. His maid, Rosa, however, is a representation of the doctor’s sexual side – the back of his mind inflicted with sexual thoughts. The sick young man in the story may be a signification of the “Gentile stereotype of the Jew”. Similarly, when the Jew doctor just readily lies down besides the young patient, this intensifies the hidden tension between the conscious and unconscious thoughts present in the doctor’s mind.

Constantly, we are reminded of sexual tension in Freudian tradition and the way Kafka’s doctor tries to situate himself between the tension and the traditional stance of Judaism. These themes can even be enlarged if Kafka’s own life, his aversion to marriage, and his inability to form a heterosexual relation in his life are also taken into account. Therefore, the story offers quite a few subtle and obvious themes that emerge from the primary structure of the story which at surface is just about reaching a distant village to attend to a sick patient. It is the literary mastery of Kafka that makes the story open to as many themes and subthemes as the reader can find out. (186-198).

The Challenges
There are quite a few challenges confronted by Kafka’s central character in the story.

The First Challenge
Firstly, the doctor cannot find a horse on a stormy night and he has to attend to a sick man in another village. As his horse already died of overwork, he is frustrated both psychologically and professionally. The psychological frustration comes with the fact that with his horse dead, no one from the village is ready to lend him a horse and so the professional frustration emerges out of this one. Perhaps, this can increase his frustration because no one takes this doctor to be worthy of lending a horse even when he wants to attend to a sick person.

The Second Challenge
Second challenge takes place as the groom comes out of the pigsty followed by two horses “with thick steaming bodies” (¶ 1). As the groom offers him the horses and leashes up his lustfulness for Rosa, the doctor is faced with the challenge as weather to go to attend to the patient or to save his servant Rosa from the blue-eyed beast. This challenge has sexual, physical, and moral frustrations that remain with the doctor up to the end and we see him completely haunted by these thoughts even when he checks up the sickly young man.

 The Third Challenge
The doctor confronts the third challenge as he tries to examine the patient. This challenge is a blend of the previous thoughts, his professional loyalty, the vulnerable family of the patient, and the intrusion of the horses during his examination. Thus, he is frustrated by how to find out the cure of the wound in the boy’s body “in the region of the hip”, and how to satisfy the patient and his family. This challenge is heightened by his failure to cure the boy’s wound and because the patient’s family “demanded the impossible from” him – he is frustrated since he finds no way to go about any of the ways.

The Forth Challenge
The forth challenge comes out of his thoughts of Rosa, perhaps being raped by the groom; he has to save her by going back home. Here he is frustrated by the fact that now on his journey back home the horses are not moving fast enough (¶ 1). This entire scene from the showing up of the groom up to this phase is regarded by some critics as the stage that Kafka set to portray the subtleties or human psychology and how different forces within a human mind work in opposition to each other (Marson & Leopld).

The entire story can be fairly regarded as a nightmare because the story has events taking place in a manner which is far from reality, and most have negative connotations. For instance, the appearance of the groom and the horses from pigsty is as odd as the doctor’s instant movement to the other village leaving Rosa behind with the groom, and the way the patient’s wound is reflected: A wound representing the psyche of the doctor, a rusty wound; additionally, the story is beyond reality when we see how the patient’s family rips the doctor off his clothes and the sloth with which he moves back home, naked (Potter).

A Country Doctor is a complex representation of a number of themes within a short fiction story which not only invites the reader to its language but also to its background being immensely provocative.

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