Franz Kafka's story “The Hunter Gracchus” is a bizarre tale that focuses on human isolation and indifference. The citizens of Riva pay no attention at all when a strange ship sails into the harbor and some men carry out a bier. The people are simply too busy about their own affairs, even insignificant things like playing dice or reading a newspaper, to notice what should be an interesting, even fascinating event. They ask no questions. They take no notice. They are isolated and indifferent
The men carry the bier into a house nearby, but the only creatures who notice are the doves, who seem to be more attune to this strange event than their human counterparts. Then a man in a top hat appears and is admitted into the house. He is met inside by many small boys, as if the author is suggesting that only such children have the potential for community. The newcomer is led into a room where the bier has been placed. There is a man lying on it who seems dead. The newcomer dismisses all other people from the room, and when he does, the man on the bier begins to speak.
The conversation is odd indeed. The man on the bier introduces himself as the hunter Gracchus who has been dead for many years although he is not quite dead. He cannot pass over to the other world but travels in his ship all around the earth. He often forgets where he is, yet he knows everything. He is alone except for his attendants, but he doesn't seem to care much. He is mostly indifferent to his surroundings and experiences, and he speaks without much emotion about how he is on “the immense staircase” leading to the world beyond, but he can never climb all the way up. He merely lies still most of the time and listens. He does not consider himself to blame for what has happened, and since no one knows him, no one wants to help him. Even if they did, others would consider them sick, so he merely remains still and isolated and usually indifferent. He has no intentions, he tells his visitor. “My boat is without a helm,” he explains. It goes where it will, and he goes with it.
Gracchus represents the kind of life that is more dead than alive. It is a life without companionship or interest or goals or dreams. Indeed, it is a sad life, an empty live, but it is also the life of far too many people in this world.