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A Country Doctor by Franz Kafka: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:00 Definition of Kafkaesque
  • 1:07 Plot Summary of 'A…
  • 3:19 Analysis of 'A Country Doctor'
  • 5:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Mitchell

David has an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts, where he worked as a writing coach. He has been published in various literary journals.

Have you ever read the work of Franz Kafka and thought 'What on earth did I just read?' Worry not! In this lesson, you will learn an overview of ''A Country Doctor'' and an analysis of its style, themes, and possible meaning.

Definition of Kafkaesque

The writing of Franz Kafka is so unique and ineffable to some that an entire word has been invented just to describe it: Kafkaesque. As you might've guessed, Kafkaesque describes works or ideas relating to or resembling the literary work of Franz Kafka. These works are characterized by a complexity that seems senseless, surreal, or menacing.

Kafka's fiction takes us into worlds both familiar and grotesquely unfamiliar, where the rules of reality as we understand them don't always apply. And yet they feel strangely universal. Who hasn't, on a bad day, identified with the pathetic isolation of Gregor Samsa in Metamorphosis? In 'A Country Doctor', Kafka captures with urgent precision the utter absurdity and panicked dread of a bad dream in a mere 2,500 words. But is that all there is to this story? Or is Kafka mocking our confusion from beyond the grave?

Plot Summary of 'A Country Doctor'

On a cold winter night, a country doctor prepares to depart from his estate to tend to the needs of a sick patient ten miles away. Unfortunately, he is in need of a horse for his carriage, referred to as a trap, but his own steed has perished one night earlier. As the doctor kicks open the door to his pigsty, a mysterious groom appears and supplies him with a pair of horses and secures them to the carriage. The groom aggressively kisses the doctor's maid, and while the doctor wishes to chastise him, he feels that he cannot as he is in the man's debt. As he departs in the carriage, the maid flees inside the doctor's house, with the groom in close pursuit. The doctor wishes to help her, but he is powerless as the horses travel instantaneously to their intended destination.

Once at his patient's house, the doctor attempts to treat his patient, a bed-ridden young boy who doesn't appear to have any sort of ailment. Nevertheless, the patient implores that the doctor let him die. The doctor then notices that the patient has a horrid, bloody infection on his side, which is beset by multi-legged worms. The boy then begs to be saved. As his kin assemble around the doctor to see him work, the horses from outside have stuck their heads into the windows of the room.

The family sings a bizarre, quasi-religious verse as the doctor works. Then they proceed to strip him naked and lay him in bed next to his patient, under the apparent impression that this will cure him. The doctor assures his patient that his wound is not lethal, and promptly leaves the room, grabbing his clothes and instruments as he does. He does not bother getting dressed, and promptly throws his belongings into the carriage, but the horses are weary and only trudge through the snow instead. The doctor then despairs at his prospects of returning home at the rate the horses are now moving, and he thinks briefly of his maid's impending rape, that his practice will be lost, though he considers himself irreplaceable, and the fact that his fur coat now dangles out of reach at the far end of his carriage while he is still naked in the cold. He feels betrayed that none of his patients will help him.

Analysis of 'A Country Doctor'

Kafka's style is best described as literary modernism, which is a movement characterized by a conscious break with the pretenses of traditional narrative and verse styles, with the aim of expressing the sensibilities of the current age. Linguistic despair seems to permeate this story, as does despair of all the false assurances in the doctor's world, to which his society clings to with a desperate determination. During any time of doubt and impending social upheaval, there is much uncertainty over traditional values and institutions.

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