Critical analysis of Kafka's short story "A Dream," highlighting the focalizer, narrator, and symbolism.

Kafka uses the distinction between the narrator who describes the dream and the focalizer (K's experience of the dream) to underscore the dream's symbolic content, which has to do with the nature of writing and the self.

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Kafka's story is, literally, the recounting of a dream. The story begins, however, rather problematically:

Josef K. was dreaming.

The narrator, who speaks these words, is not K. himself; this is an omniscient intelligence that somehow is able to share K's dream. This is an important distinction: while the story...

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Kafka's story is, literally, the recounting of a dream. The story begins, however, rather problematically:

Josef K. was dreaming.

The narrator, who speaks these words, is not K. himself; this is an omniscient intelligence that somehow is able to share K's dream. This is an important distinction: while the story is told to us by the narrator, the point of view, or "focalizer," is K. himself, or, at times, the artist. For instance, at a critical moment in the story, when the artist pauses inscribing the stone, the narrator tells us that K. understood that the artist was embarrassed, then tells us that the artist, "since there was no help for it," decides to continue carving the stone. This kind of shifting of focalizer mimics the confused way dreams call attention to detail. If we understand the narrator, K., and the artist to be the same person, then the way the story is told reinforces the dreamlike sense of watching the dream unfold while simultaneously being part of the events in the dream.

This kind of duality can be seen in the details of the dream, in which K. is both at the graveside and in the grave, by the motion of the path contrasted with his awkward transition to stillness, and by the bells, which ring loudly and then awkwardly a second time. It can be hard to assign meanings to these elements, but one thing that occurs naturally is that this is a dream about writing and the self: the artist writes effortlessly on the stone at first; even though he is using a pencil, each stroke produces a beautiful golden letter; it is when he finishes writing the words "Here lies" that he looks at K, watching him write, and he loses his ability to continue. Perhaps we are meant to understand writing (represented by the inscription) as a kind of process of self-entombment; the "J" that lies there in the grave is the same person as the artist who writes his name on the stone.

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