I decided I could spare some change and ordered a collection of Kafka's works (not complete, but it looked like a good sampler). It included five very short stories.
Before the Law. Apparently this is part of Kafka's novel The Trial (which I haven't read yet, though it's a part of the collection I ordered). It is a parable about a "man from the country who asks to gain entry into the law." He spends his entire life pleading with the gatekeeper, but to no avail.
I can recognize the themes of frustration and futility in this story, but beyond that I only have questions. First of all, I have no idea what it might mean to "gain entry into the law." Does he want a job as a judge? Is he seeking forgiveness? Does he want to make a deal with the feds so they'll look the other way while he sells moonshine at the speakeasy? Second of all, why the heck did he have his very own gate assigned to him if there was no possible way for him to go through it? Or is the whole point that he should not have waited for permission? It seems that was the only thing he didn't try.
The Hunter Gracchus. A dead hunter (who is also alive "to a certain extent") travels through all the countries of the earth in his death ship which has lost its way. I guess the moral of the story is that there's a big difference between only mostly dead and all dead, and it may be best if you don't go through this hunter's clothes to look for loose change. (OK, that last bit has nothing to do with the story, but I couldn't resist.) Anyway, once again it's a story of endless frustration.
Up in the Gallery. A very brief (two paragraph) story about a frail consumptive circus rider, and the absurd way things might be in contrast with the not much less absurd way things are. What stood out most to me about this story was that each paragraph was one very, very long sentence, so that the entire story is made up of two sentences.
An Imperial Message. This is an introductory parable to the short story entitled "The Great Wall of China" (which is not included in the collection I purchased). A peasant dreams of a message sent to him by a dying emperor which, even if its very existence weren't improbable, is undeliverable due to logistics. Another exercise in futility.
Jackals and Arabs. I'm not trying to insult anyone here, but I wondered if the talking jackals in this story represented the Jewish people. "It seems to be a very old conflict--it's probably in the blood and so perhaps will only end with blood . . . you should end the quarrel which divides the world in two."
|Time Transfixed, 1938|
by René Magritte
If you are suffering from Kafkaphobia, try a few of his short stories. They may not make any more sense to you than they did to me, but they are not difficult to read and you will get a taste of his style without investing much time. They may be enough to dispel your fear and lead you to read one of his novels. And if you do understand them, you can explain them to me!