Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The parable of the hunter Gracchus, with its overtones of both classical mythology and Germanic legend, is perhaps most reminiscent of the folk saga of the Flying Dutchman, the man whose blasphemous boasting condemned him to sail the seas on his ghostly ship forever unless released from his punishment by the faithfulness of a woman. He too, like Gracchus, sought death as a liberation from his endless wanderings, but he found himself powerless to end his own life. Like Gracchus, the voyager of the legend was accorded the chance to come ashore from his ship periodically to seek that which might free him from the curse.

However, Gracchus is condemned to sail wherever the winds may drive his boat without the benefit of knowing the offense of which he is guilty, and this is where his story differs so significantly from the legend of the Flying Dutchman and what makes his plight so characteristic of the human condition as Franz Kafka confronts it. Indeed, as he says, Gracchus lived his life as he had been meant to live it: joyously, proudly, and with distinction. His labors were blessed. He was known as the Great Hunter of the Black Forest. The death that he thought was his, and for which he still wishes, is not a desperate wish but rather the natural consequence and fitting reward for the life that went before it. He met death gladly and expectantly, donning his shroud as a bride would her wedding gown. “Then came the mishap.”

It was the fault...

(The entire section is 584 words.)