Franz Kafka's "The Country Doctor"
Commentary by behnam
Kafka's story "The Country Doctor" is one of his most enigmatic, because it is one of his most symbolic, and his symbols defy easy explanation. The story opens with a kindly physician standing outside his home in "great perplexity"; his horse has died, and he has been summoned to see a critically-ill patient some ten miles away. The doctor's maid has gone to try to borrow a horse, but he is sure she will be unsuccessful. The story is introduced in a series of tight, clipped sentence fragments, as if related in a state of great anxiety, but so far the events themselves make perfect sense. Suddenly, however, it transforms itself into nightmare. The doctor kicks the door of an old abandoned pigsty, and two horses and a lecherous groom squeeze out of the tiny door as if the pigsty itself were giving birth to them. The doctor is soon borne away into the night, pulled by the huge horses, helplessly watching the groom trying to break into the house to rape the maid. Something dreadful and yet larger than life has been born out of the doctor's complacency. The pigsty is significant in terms of Kafka's Jewish background: pigs were considered unclean. Hence anything to which they gave birth would be likewise unclean. We know immediately that these are no ordinary horses, and this is no ordinary groom. He is a demon, and those are demon steeds. They are rushing the country doctor to a confrontation, not with any ordinary patient, but with himself. When the doctor arrives at his patient's house, he finds the patient to be a young boy who, at first glance, seems to be in perfectly good health -- except that he pleads for the doctor to let him die. The doctor is about to prescribe a placebo when the horses push open the bedroom window and begin neighing frantically, just as in Greek legend Achilles' horse Xanthous similarly warned the young hero of his approaching death. The country doctor notices for the first time...
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