Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Because Kafka strictly limits the story’s point of view to that of the narrator, his mode of expression becomes the most important stylistic consideration. Here Kafka, like his narrator, constructs a labyrinthine tour de force. The style might be termed “manic obsessive”: Throughout the story, the narrator circles over and over the same concerns, expressing by turns his pride in his elaborate construction and his fear that it will not protect him. The ideas double back on one another, sometimes within the same sentence, rendering concrete the narrator’s mental turmoil, as do the frequent questions, unanswered and perhaps unanswerable. The style perfectly fits the narrator’s psyche and situation, its shifting tone reflecting his constantly changing outlook and state of mind.

As the narrative develops, Kafka—facing his own imminent death—gradually modulates the narrator’s tone. Near the story’s end, he even declares, “I have reached the stage where I no longer wish to have certainty.” The narrator despairs of concocting and carrying out any new defense plan or even reaching an understanding of his enemy; at the end, his only hope is that he will somehow be spared by the other beast’s ignorance of him. Even as he tries to convince himself that the other beast may not have heard him, the fragment concludes, “Yet all remained unchanged,” leaving him hopeless as the beast draws near.