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Franz Kafka’s A country doctor is a story about a doctor who is called upon in the middle of the night to attend to a seriously ill young man .Hampered by lack of transport means and extreme weather conditions, the doctor is at pains to come up with solutions to his problems. This essay paper will attempt to systematically examine the challenges and frustrations that the doctor encounters as the story unfolds. This essay will also answer the questions as to why the story may be referred to as a nightmare as well as explore the major themes brought out in this artistic tale that is indeed a replica of Franz Kafka’s generation and the current modern society.
Challenges and Frustrations
The doctor is in a dilemma He is challenged by the fact that he has no means of transport to take him to the home of the gravely ill young man, ten miles away. The doctor’s horse had died due to the icy winter. “My own horse had died the previous night as a result of overexertion in this icy winter.” The doctor is frustrated at this point because no one in the village was willing to assist him. “My servant girl was at that very moment running around the village to see if she could borrow a horse but it was hopeless-I knew that.” Out of frustration the doctor risks hurting himself by kicking the pigsty’s door. “I kicked my foot against the cracked door of the pigsty which had not been used for years.”
The severe weather conditions pose a challenge to the doctor too. He has to endure the chilly snowstorm to go and attend to a patient. The doctor says, “A severe snowstorm filled the space between him and me.” The doctor does not hide his dilemma when he says, ” I stood there useless ,increasingly covered by snow , becoming all the time immobile.” After treating the sick young man the doctor attempts to make his way home but the once strong and fat horses are old and tired, they move at a slow rate at which the doctor feels he will never reach home. Consider, “We dragged slowly through the snowy desert like old men.” The doctor is evidently frustrated when he says, “I’ll never come home at this rate. He becomes sad when he thinks of his home which was occupied by the Groom. “In my house the disgusting groom is wreaking havoc, Rosa is his victim.”
The third challenge that the doctor encounters is the Groom. The doctor does not know how to deal with this stranger. First, when the groom brutally bites Rosa on her cheeks, the doctor only threatens the groom with words and calms down at once because he wanted to borrow a horse from the groom. At that moment, the doctor is almost the groom’s slave. The groom eventually offers his horses to the doctor but decides to stay with Rosa instead of traveling with the doctor. The doctor is therefore at crossroads. He does not know whether he should stay and protect Rosa from the brutal groom or go ahead and attend to the seriously ill Youngman. The doctor chose the later. However, as the story unfolds the frustrations of the doctor concerning this decision become apparent. Consider, “I had to sacrifice Rosa as well, this beautiful girl, who lives in my house all year long and whom I scarcely notice-this sacrifice is too great.”
The doctor is challenged by poverty and too much work. He has dedicated his life to serving the district but is poorly paid. Consider, “I am employed by the district and my duty do my duty to the full, right to the point where it is almost too much. Badly paid, but I am generous and ready to help the poor.” The doctor has only one horse, when the horse dies the doctor lacks means of transport to enable him perform his duties efficiently. The doctor is evidently overworked. He is called at midnight to attend to patients. It seems he rarely sleeps since his night bell was always rung by villagers. When performing his duties the doctor is under pressure from the villagers. They want him to instantly cure their patients. The doctor is frustrated by this when he says. “I am not a world improver.”
The first theme that has been well brought out is the theme of suffering. At the beginning of the story, the doctor suffers psychologically because he has no means of transport to enable him reach the home of a seriously ill man. “I was in great difficulty. An urgent journey was facing me.A seriously ill man was waiting for me in a village ten miles distant.” The doctor’s horse had died and he was worried because no villager would lend him a horse. “Of course, who is now going to lend his horse for such a journey?”
The extreme icy winter made the doctor to suffer. First his horse dies in the winter leaving him without means of transport and secondly the doctor has to endure the chilly weather to attend to the patient. “I stood there useless, increasingly covered by snow, becoming all the time more immobile.
Rosa suffers when the groom bites her on the cheeks. “On the girl’s cheeks are red marks from two rows of teeth.” Rosa further suffers when the doctor leaves her to stay with the evil groom against her will. “No, screams Rosa and runs into the house with an accurate premonition of the inevitability of her fate.”
The sick young man suffers too. The young man suffers from a deadly wound that is infested with worms. Consider, “On his right side, in the region of the hip, a wound the size of the palm of ones hand had opened up.” The young man having lost hope of living tells the doctor, “Doctor let me die.”
The second theme found in this story is blame. The doctor blames his failure to attend t o a seriously ill patient on his lack of a horse. Consider, “But the horse was missing- the horse.” The doctor further blames the villagers for unnecessarily summoning him to attend patients who according to the doctor were just feigning illness. He blames the villagers further for not assisting him in time of need. Consider, “My servant girl was at that very moment running around the village to see if she could borrow a horse but it was hopeless.”
The country doctor as a narrative constantly places blame for his failure on others, on the lack of horses, on the groom, on the villagers, on the young man. His narrative attitude is one of; if I have failed it is not my fault, but rather the fault of others (Gray 2009)
Exploitation is another theme found in this story. Exploitation is unfair treatment of someone or use of a situation in a way that is wrong in order to get some benefit (Wikipedia, 2009) the groom appears at a time when the doctor is need of transport means and takes advantage of the situation to take Rosa against her will. ” I see how in addition she chases down the room putting all the lights in order to make herself impossible to find.”
The theme of betrayal is also evident in this short story. The doctor betrays his house help when he leaves he in the hands of the brutal groom. “I had to sacrifice Rosa as well ,this beautiful girl who lives in my house all year long and whom I scarcely notice-this sacrifice is too great.”
He witnesses the bachelor force himself upon the house maid but rather than stay to access and disarm the stranger, the doctor allows the steeds to carry him off as the screams of his housemaid echo through the winter night. (Hemphill 2009)
This short story may be called a nightmare. The doctor concludes that the sick young man is feigning illness after a brief examination. The doctor only observed the heartbeat of the patient. In his reasoning the patient was only seeking attention that he was not sick. The doctor in this story does not operate the way doctors in real world operate.
Alex Hemphill observed that Franz Kafka’s – A country doctor is written in a stream of consciousness and includes all the making of a nightmare (2009)
When the doctor kicked the door of the pigsty there emerged the groom and the two horses mysteriously. This is absolute fantasy and cannot happen in a real world.. “Two horses, powerful animals with strong flanks shoved their way one behind the other.”
A country doctor can be read as fulfillment fantasy motivated by self exculpation (Gray 2009)
The doctor in Franz Kafka’s -A country doctor is a reflection of some people in the society who sacrifice their lives to serve everyone but their efforts are hardly noticed by anyone. They are the unseen heroes of national development who would rather die than fail duty. Though frustrated by environment and a society that does not appreciate them, such people do not fear to encounter the challenges that lie ahead of them.
Perhaps the doctor sums everything in his story by asserting that, “To write prescriptions is easy but to come to an understanding with people is hard.”
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