The short story ‘a country doctor’ by Franz Kafka explores the challenges of a rural doctor. The story is set in a poor and undeveloped area, where the only doctor available is the one we read about. Although he is ultimately qualified to deal with any situation, the doctor is faced by challenge after challenge; and frustration over frustration.
The Challenges Of The “Country Doctor”
Lack of transport: the first challenge the doctor faces is the lack of transport. The main means of transport appears to be a horse drawn carriage. However, the doctor’s horse has died and none of his village mates or friends are willing to lend him a horse to transport him. The doctor must find transport for himself and his heavy equipment bag, to get him to his patient which is 10 miles away. Kafka (2010), as he stands outside waiting for any means of transport, he views the situation as “hopeless”.
Bad weather: this is the second challenge faced by the doctor on his journey to treat a patient. Kafka (1995)”a severe snowstorm filled the space between me and the patient”. Even as the doctor stands in the courtyard awaiting assistance, his feet are “increasingly covered in snow” making it even more difficult to move, (Kafka 2010).
The new means of transport: although the doctor finally gets help from a stranger, he finds it difficult to control the new animals. Their behaviour seems to be unlike that of his own horse which he was used to. In fact the doctor clearly refers to them as “…uncontrollable horses….” when he ties them up on arrival to his patient’s residence, they somehow find a way to loosen their straps and hound him as he attends his patient, (Kafka 2010).
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Work burden with low pay: the doctor is employed by the district, and is expected to respond to all calls of emergency, even those that prove to be unnecessary. A night bell hangs at his house, so that the citizens of the district can demand his attention whenever they feel it’s necessary. The citizens have often called upon him even when they are not so sick. Despite all the work he is expected to do, he is “badly paid”. He does his duty to the full, even when it’s “too much” but is paid meagrely.
Frustrations Of The Doctor
Because of the lack of transport, the doctor must stand in the cold having sent his servant to fetch any transport available. However, he is solely aware that no transport will be found in that weather and at that hour, however he must try for it is part of his duty. The doctor is frustrated at the unkindness of his neighbours and citizens of the district ho call upon him at ungodly hours yet will not lift a hand to help him when he needs the help. The doctor is so frustrated that he imagines he may have to straddle pigs, if he is to get to his destination, (Kafka 1995).
The bad weather makes it difficult for the doctor to find any transport. He is left to freeze in the cols while awaiting a good Samaritan who seems unlikely. This situation the doctor sees as “hopeless”. The bad weather has not only caused the death of his horse, it has also made it impossible for the doctor to find any other means of transport. The doctor is frustrated that the bad weather has made him immobile. As the doctor escapes the village, once again we experience his frustration with the weather. Although he gets away, his clothes are in the wagon and he is forced to control the horses while naked. He is very cold yet he cannot reach his clothes and control the horses at the same time.
The doctor cannot control his new horses; he is frustrated that the animals are slowing him down. Although he plans to return home for the night, the horses are uncontrollable often not following his command. As he escapes the village, he commands the horses to “…giddy up” but they drag themselves slowly through the cold weather prolonging his suffering.
Finally, because of his low salary and work burden the doctor cannot pay for a new horse. He is frustrated because he feels that the demands of his work may have forced him to sacrifice Rosa, his beautiful maid servant. Although he would like to be at home, protecting her from the brute gentleman who has lend him the horses, his duty demands that he attend his patient first and he has no money to pay for the horses.
From the beginning of the story nothing seems to go right for the country doctor, the doctor seems to be plagued by bad luck all the way. First he lacks transport, and then he must sacrifice his friend for some means of transport. Once he arrives at the patient’s he finds that though he is injured, the wound is really bad, and the family expects some form of miracle cure. In the end the same people who called on him for help turn against him, forcing him to run away naked and alone in the dark. Although he manages to run away, his horses trudge along slowly oblivious to the cold weather and his suffering. The doctor’s misfortunes seem too much and unrealistic, they can therefore be termed as “a nightmare”.
Themes In The Story
Some of the themes in the “country doctor” include, lack of gratitude as portrayed both by the villagers who make unnecessary calls to the doctor totally ignoring his private life. They demand his attention continuously. Lack of gratitude is also seen in the villagers who would not donate their animals for the doctor to travel in. They show more concern for the animals than for the doctor who continuously treats them.
The second theme explored is that of love and friendship. This is seen through the concern the doctor has for Rosa. All through his journey, he feels that he may have abandoned her to an undesirable fate; he feels he must return home and rescue her, (Gray 2005).
Finally, another theme explored in the story is that of sacrifices as shown by the many sacrifices the doctor has to make to reach his patient. The doctor sacrifices Rosa, the warmth of his house, the security of his home for transport to the unknown and welfare of an ungrateful patient.
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