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Franz Kafka's 'A Country Doctor' is a powerfully presented story of a doctor mired in a great agony. The story begins with the doctor outlining his situation "I was in great difficulty. A great journey was facing me" this sets the pace and the stage for the subsequent revelation of torments which cuddle the doctor as he attends to "my flourishing practice" what an irony?
At his hour of need, the turbulent icy winter has killed his horse and a sick man's family has sought his rescuing surgeon's hand ten miles away. No villager is willing to lend his horse. He stands hopelessly and helplessly in the courtyard. Although his servant girl has left to seek an alternative he remains pessimistic.
Out of frustration, he brutally kicks against the cracked door of a pig sty. A groom appears and offers to assist. His relief is short lived. The groom brutally kisses and wounds the cheek of his servant girl. Infuriated, he intervenes but retreats on realizing the situation he was in. The offer, wrapped in lamb fleece, cost him Rosa. He had to sacrifice the innocent girl so as to hearken to the call of his profession.
In what appears as just a moment he covered ten miles. On arrival he is hailed by the sick man's family. He confesses that the people had all their hope and faith in empirical enterprise and had reserved no place for the metaphysical entities as religion. The doctor moans that these people lacked faith and that's why they demand the impossible. Due to over reliance on the 'powerful hand' of the doctor the people are disillusioned when he fails to affirm their expectations.
These situations present challenges right from the beginning; the unfriendly weather, the death of the horse, the supposedly helpful groom and the self conscience of the doctor.
The story alternates melancholy and shot bouts of relief. Kafka condemned the doctor to a nightmarish cycle. For instance, when he was at the hour of his need and the stranger offers to give him horses, the groom later demanded Rosa in return. Tempted to object, his conscience brakes, "but I immediately remember thatâ€¦â€¦he's helping me out of his own free will when everyone else is refusing to" this confession shows his inability to rescue Rosa from the love maniac. The inability to help yourself and those you care about, that's nightmare (Hockenbury, 157). Consciously the doctor is willing to help Rosa but unconsciously he is driven off in the carriage leaving the helpless Rosa to the mercies of her villain.
Another challenge bedeviling the doctor is the demands of the people whom he serves. They demand the impossible. The demands placed upon him are superhuman (Bevan, 55). The ultimate nightmare is evident in the song sang by the villagers as they strip him naked and lay him besides the sick man. This nightmare comes also as a disgrace to the old man.
The doctor sums up his frustrations and nightmare when he states in length "I am no improver of the world and let him die there. I am employed by the district and also do my duty to the full right to the point where it's almost too much, badly paid but I am generous and ready to help the poor." Here he starts quoting his irony with anger and end by drawing our sympathy. What has he to show? To be of use in the world is the only way to happiness (Carson, 149) seems to be his conviction. Then he immediately adds "I still have to look after Rosa" ironically; he's not adhered to this last duty which pursues him throughout the story. The nature seems to fan the tragedies working on the doctor.
One of Kafka's outstanding themes in this story is the theme of death. The theme of death first sets the story when it snatches his horse, heavily armed in severe snowstorm. The death of his horse leaves him; "destructed and tormented". The sick man requested the doctor to let him die. He must have weighed between the 'pleasure' of death and the suffering as a result of his sickness and ultimately voted for the former. There is also a symbolic death of the people's faith in God. People have "lost the old faith" in favor of the 'new faith' the, "delicate surgeon's hand"-the science.
The other theme found in the story is that of exploitation and intimidation. The district, which is the employer, is not innocent of exploiting the doctor by having him work and pay him badly. The returns from the people are equally pathetic, intimidation and disgrace to the doctor. The worms are also exploiting the wound of the sick man and finally the man succumbed to the exploits of the decomposers.
The final theme which wreathes the story is that of frustration. Kafka takes the reader through a cycle of frustration. There is not a life jacket for the doctor and other characters drowning with frustrations. Whenever a problem is let loose to the character, a quick remedy hind the fierce face of it but soon an equally fiercer one is loosened in quick succession so that the story is founded and developed on vicious cycle of frustrations.
Kafka's story is a microcosm of the world full of existential tragedies and nightmares acting of helpless humanity. Humanity is condemned by nature to determining factors where it has little room to decide its destiny. The doctor has no control of natural calamities such as death and bad weather which bogged him down and made his suffering unbearable. Convicted by his duty to serve and good will the doctor serves his people regardless of their lack of cooperation and his employer's disincentive. At the end he has to be canny in order to come out of the morass. His impatient patient is also too much willing to fork out the doctor's eyes. What a nightmare?