Franz Kafka’s literary works is written in such a unique style that the term Kafkaesque is coined after his bizarre and surreal writing style. Even though his wordings are often straightforward, a psychological and philosophical understanding is necessary to understand what he intends to impart in each of his works. More often than not, his writings have to be read more than once. In a letter addressed to his father, Kafka revealed that all his works is a reflection of himself. One of Kafka’s short stories, A Country Doctor, is famously being used in college literature classes as something to reflect and write about.
A Country Doctor: Summary
A Country Doctor takes place in a surreal nightmarish place with the events of the story being narrated by a troubled doctor. The story unfolds just like a dream; time and logic doesn’t seem to work the way it normally does. To add, strange characters come and go and the location does not make sense in some parts of the story. As Kafka is an admirer of Sigmund Freud, his A Country Doctor is riddled with objects, people, and incidents that can be interpreted using Freud’s theories.
What is the story of A Country Doctor written by Franz Kafka?
A Country Doctor starts with the doctor worrying about a patient that is 10 miles away. He has sent his maid to go from house to house and ask his neighbors if anyone would be so kind as to lend him their horse despite the ongoing snowfall. Unfortunately, his maid, Rosa, came back empty handed. The doctor had already expected this to happen. In his disappointment, he went straight for his pig sty and opened the door. There he found a groom and two beautiful horses. The doctor and Rosa joked among themselves: “you never know what you have in your own house.”
As the groom had offered this two horses to the doctor, the doctor instructed his maid to go and help the man attach the horses to the carriage. No sooner had Rosa reached the groom, he thrusts his face onto hers. Rosa narrowly missed the groom’s attack and had suffered red marks on her cheek made by the man’s teeth. This enraged the doctor but he wasn’t able to properly lash out as he feels indebted to the man. The doctor says he will be the one to take the reins as the groom doesn’t know the way to which the groom replied that he was not going with the doctor – he was staying with Rosa.
The groom’s statement elicited a scream from Rosa. In her fear, she ran inside the house, locked the door, and proceeded to turn out the lights in the rooms. The doctor then urged the man to accompany him on his journey instead for he knows what fate awaits Rosa if he lets the man stay. But then, just like it was practiced, the horses bolted off after the groom clapped his hands. The doctor found that the horses were uncontrollable.
Then as if the patient’s house is just on the other side of the doctor’s gate, the supposed to be long journey was over. He was greeted by frantic members of the patient’s family and is not able to make sense of their reports. When he gets to the patient, the patient tells him: “Doctor, let me die.” As he was examining the boy, he was thinking about how he can rescue Rosa from the clutches of the groom as they were 10 miles apart. The country doctor then finds that the boy is perfectly healthy. This causes him to think about how unfortunate he is as he had and was willing to sacrifice so much just to get to his patient.
He thought about how he had to sacrifice Rosa and how no one in his village lifted a finger to help him in times of need. The doctor gathered his things and when he was about to leave, he saw the family had assembled and the boy’s sister was waving a blood-soaked handkerchief. This made him inspect the boy’s body once more. It was then that he found a fresh wound with worms writhing inside it in the boy’s side. He knew that it was impossible to save the boy because of the wound. But then the boy asks: “Will you save me?”
The boy’s cry for help frustrates him because it reminded him of how the people had been asking him for the impossible as they have lost faith in the parish. He gives in and still tries to help but the patient’s family along with the village elders approached and started to undress him as a school choir sings “Undress him, and he will heal you, if he doesn’t heal you, kill him! He’s just a doctor, a doctor!” Then he is carried and laid on the boy’s bed because the people believe this can heal the boy.
But the country doctor laying on the boy’s bed just infuriated him. The reason behind the boy’s reaction is because the doctor is unable to heal him and now he is sharing a sick person’s bed. They talked and the doctor was able to convince the boy that his flesh wound is not to be fussed over. He grabbed his clothes, not bothering to wear them, and hurriedly left for he was worried that the horses might bolt for the second time around. The horses did the opposite and the doctor agonized in the cold as his coat was flung far from his seat.
The Country Doctor: Analysis
It is quite obvious that A Country Doctor is a dream – a bad one at that. The flow of events is strange and some cannot be explained even by the doctor himself who narrates the story. The last sentence of Kafka’s A Country Doctor made it seem like all of the events that transpired in the story would not have happened if he had not made the mistake of responding to the night bell in the first place. The night bell, the signal to let him know that someone is in need of his services, was never mentioned in the beginning of the story.
Meanwhile, A Country Doctor’s first sentence alone is enough to foreshadow the events that is to happen in the story. He wrote, in original German, “Ich war in grosser verlegenheit.” This translates to “I was in quandary.” The German word verlegenheit has three different meaning depending on the way it has been used. Each of those meanings can point the story in a different direction. Kafka’s choice of word proved how much of a writing genius he is as all of those three meanings fit the emotions of the doctor within the events that transpired in A Country Doctor.
The first meaning of verlegenheit as a noun is “troubles.” All throughout the story, the doctor faces numerous challenges he is forced to face and conquer starting with the loss of a horse and ending with if he can even get back home. The next, as an adjective, it means “embarrassment.” The doctor is deeply embarrassed by himself as he has failed to save his maid, is unable to cure the boy, and is humiliated when he was stripped naked by the boy’s family and village elders. Finally, verlegenheit as a verb means “to lose something due to a distraction.” The doctor seemed very much distracted by the ride offered to him and is the reason why he is forcefully taken away from Rosa.
Kafka is a man who was sexually active and has a fear of sexual failure. His fear reflects in this story because according to Sigmund Freud, a man cannot reveal his sexual fantasies due to shame and embarrassment. In relation to the third meaning of verlegenheit, Freud believes that misplacing things in a dream signifies the repression of significant memories and urges (Gordon-Bramer). But as can be remembered in the first part of the story, the doctor kicked open the pig sty with Rosa beside him. This means that, in Freudian analysis, that Rosa is the one who awakened the doctor’s sexual urges. The groom also represents how he was afraid of someone surpassing him and is the reason why he couldn’t get to a lady he desires.
Then, because he was unable to cure the boy, the doctor was stripped naked by the patient’s family along with the village elders. According to Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, nakedness in a dream translates to the dreamer’s shame and embarrassment. Kafka, in real life, may feel like he is unable to move in a situation where he feels totally helpless and powerless. And the doctor, being unable to save both the boy and his maid Rosa is in a situation where he feels powerless himself.
Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor seems to be a short story that is deeply rooted in Freudian psychology along with philosophy. Freud believes that the unconscious mind influences behavior far more than people realize. Being an admirer of Freud, Kafka must have wanted to reflect the same on his work A Country Doctor. Apart from being a reflection of oneself, Kafka must have meant to make the readers deal with the other characters in the story themselves and that’s why he opted to make use of the first-person narrative in telling the story.
A Country Doctor is a story of how cruel and futile life is for some people. Some are chucked into situations that they can’t even begin to comprehend and is finding it hard to get themselves out of it. There are also situations where a person is forced to accept that nothing can be changed no matter what we do; that everything is a consequence of one’s own actions and is inevitable. At times, a person has no choice but to follow the path fate has paved for him as constantly trying to fight is will soon wear him out. A Country Doctor makes readers deal with the conflicts they face, internally or externally.
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Gordon-Bramer, Julia. Easy words, doubled meanings. An analysis of “A Country Doctor,” a short story by Franz Kafka. 2011. https://www.academia.edu/7646950/Easy_Words_Doubled_Meanings_an_essay_on_The_Country_Doctor_by_Franz_Kafka
Kafka, Franz. A Country Doctor. Kurt Wolff, 1918.
Mirmobin, Sara, and Ensieh Shabanirad. “Interpretation of Dreams and Kafka’s A Country Doctor: A Psychoanalytic Reading.” International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences, vol. 63, 2015, pp. 1–6. Crossref, doi:10.18052/www.scipress.com/ilshs.63.1.