(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Standing on a seawall in Riva, Franz Kafka, the story’s protagonist, and Otto Brod, his friend, conclude their morning walk. They are on vacation from Prague and decide to finish their discussion over a beer. En route, their conversation turns from moving pictures to the modern, cubelike architecture of Riva. This style creates, in contrast to Prague’s older architecture, a sense not only of freedom but also of emptiness. As the two arrive at the cafe, they learn from Max Brod, Otto’s brother, that there will be an airshow at Brescia. The attraction of the new flying machines, and the possibility of seeing internationally recognized aviators, convinces the three vacationers to travel to Brescia.

On the first stage of their journey, the trio board an ancient steamboat that ferries them across the lake to Salo. More important, the miniature odyssey is a mental one: Kafka, recalling the previous evening’s conversation about the Wright brothers, falls into a daydream that mixes people, places, times, and themes. He wonders about what Orville and Wilbur’s plane looked like, imagines what they could see while flying above an American community, and thinks about their pragmatic study of previous pioneers of flight—Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and Samuel Pierpont Langley. He considers also the influence of the brothers on each other, and he hints at a rivalry between the Wright brothers and another early American flyer, G. H. Curtiss.

More pessimistically, he thinks of the loneliness and monotony that could be inspired in modern classrooms. Unlike the Brods, who are “modern men” (Otto is comfortable with the “hollow thought of Ernst Mach,” and Max dreams of a new Zionist state in Tel Aviv), Kafka is burdened by this modern sense of loneliness. Although he is becoming a successful lawyer, and although he can mentally create stories, he is deeply frustrated by his inability to put his ideas onto paper.

At Salo, the journey shifts from boat to train, and the three soon arrive in Brescia. There a comic interlude gently satirizes the bustle of this modern city. Newspapers are not read privately here but are rather declaimed from the sidewalks; the militia has been called in to keep order in the restaurants; that night, several police officers frantically chase two individuals down a street outside the trio’s hotel. The three travelers also experience a similar distortion of reality: Their driver takes a convoluted path to a building where the airshow’s organizing committee assigns them to a dirty hotel; later,...

(The entire section is 1047 words.)