A country doctor by Franz Kafka is a story about an ineffectual and increasingly hopeless doctor. The doctor is on a quest to attend to a patient who is seriously ill and ten miles away. The story begins with the numerous agitations and challenges the doctor faces. First his horse dies, his servant girl Rosa then unsuccessfully tries to borrow a horse for him undertake the journey. We can see from the short, sharp and broken sentences at the beginning of the story that the doctor is tense and anxious. He is seen pacing up and down further highlighting his frustrations. The groom then mysteriously appears from the pigsty and offers the solution to the doctor's transportation problem. However, the doctor has to pay for this generosity by leaving Rosa with the groom. This action is to haunt the doctor for the rest of the story because while treating his patient, he is consumed by the mental anguish of leaving the Rosa with the groom.
The doctor faces some challenges in the course of the execution of his duties. The first challenge he faces is the lack of transportation. The distance from the doctor's house to the patient's home was ten miles. The main problem was that his horse had died the previous evening "as a result of overexertion in this icy winter". He ends up sending his servant girl Rosa to get another horse from the neighbors. His frustration with the desperation of the moment is evident as the doctor is seen in deep thought on who was going to lend his horse for such a journey. He is frustrated and feels betrayed by the society for refusing to come to his aid at his hour of need.
The second challenge facing the doctor is the harsh weather. Overcoming the weather was very instrumental to enable him reach the patient's home if he was to perform his duties adequately. He had to travel the persistent snowstorm which he did after securing the two horses from the groom but having to pay a stiff price of leaving Rosa behind with him. His return journey is with even more frustration. He tried to giddy up the horses as the groom had done before but the command was not obeyed. He is thus forced to drag through the "cold desert" like an old man further frustrating his efforts try and rescue his servant girl from the groom.
The presence of the groom offers another challenge that the doctor faces. The encounter with the groom leaves the doctor with the dilemma of whether to obey the professional calling of his duty or save Rosa from the groom's unwanted advances. The appearance of the groom is mysterious and it is clear from the beginning that his intentions towards Rosa are not honorable. First he physically assaults Rosa by biting her face and leaving red marks on her chicks. The groom had committed the act while Rosa was trying to help him from the ground. The groom further complicates the doctor's life when he declares "I'm not going with you. I'm staying with Rosa". The news is especially alarming to Rosa because she wastes no time in trying to barricade herself in the house. Nevertheless, the groom is not easily swayed from his quest because the last the doctor sees of him, the house is "breaking down and splitting apart under the groom's onslaught".
The last challenge the doctor is forced to reckon with is the patient. The patient first requests the doctor to let him die upon their first encounter. The doctor does not grant his wish but concurs that there was nothing wrong with him .He is seen commenting that the patient was healthy even before he gave him a thorough examination. On closer examination the doctor realizes his diagnosis had been wrong and that young man is indeed very ill. The patient has a huge gaping wound with worms that were thick and long and with blood spluttered on them. The frustrations of the doctor are evident when he gives up hope on the patient instead of trying to help him as it is expected of him. He laments "Poor young man there's no helping you" after which the patient started begging for his life making the doctor feel that the people always demand too much from him for impossibilities he cannot deliver.
The story has several themes that are well highlighted. The first theme vividly visible is the theme of helplessness. Throughout the story the, doctor is seen as helpless. First he cannot get the horses he needs for his journey to the patient's home from his neighbors. Secondly he cannot defend the honor of Rosa when she is assaulted by the groom. This he justifies with the fact that the groom was "helping me out of his own free will, when everyone else is refusing to" Towards the end of the story the doctor is depicted as helpless when he cannot be able to save the patient as it is expected of him and also due to the fact he could not get home sooner to rescue Rosa from the groom. Opportunism is also explored as a theme in the story (Kavalu). This is mainly seen from the groom who takes advantage of the doctor's desperations so as to pursue his intentions with Rosa.
A nightmare can be described as "failed dream since it insists on stating the anxiety without offering solutions to the sleeper who is tormented by intolerable and unavoidable emotional strain" (Sandra).This story can hence be described as a nightmare as the story has been written in an unrealistic and dream like quality that makes the reader anxious. Its pace is incessant and overwhelming with the only breaks coming from the two songs. The groom also emphasizes nightmare quality with his sudden and mysterious appearance. In his possession are two horses which according to their description "they stood up straight, long legged, with thick steaming bodies". They are seen performing such acts as "lowering their well-formed heads like camels, and getting through the door space". Finally these horses gallop at utter of a command yet take forever on their return journey. Definitely these are not ordinary horses and can only be compared to those found in the Greek mythologies.
In conclusion, the story tries to highlight the many moral and physical dilemmas that we have to suffer from in the course of executing our duties as was the case between Rose and the seriously ill patient. It is also about the insurmountable obstacles mankind has to battle with nature. The doctor fought with nature and lost as nature killed his horses, made his journey almost impossible and killed the patient. The story hence helps to highlight the vulnerability of all of us in situations that we have no control over.