The Country Doctor: A Collection of Fourteen Short Stories is a collection of stories written between 1914 and 1917. The order of the stories was determined by Kafka, who decided to withdraw the fifteenth story, “Der Kübelreiter” (“The Bucket Rider”), before publication.
The questions addressed in the stories are existential. Human society is so far removed from the natural state that it at times seems to have become lost in its own rules and bureaucracy. Old institutions no longer command respect and take up too much precious time. Behind these general observations, which were certainly true in the declining days of the Habsburg monarchy, there is in Kafka’s works always the autobiographical element, the realization that his writing was the most important thing in his life, and the resentment of his professional obligations as a lawyer and of his fiancé Bauer as diversions from his main objective.
Kafka’s story sequence establishes a framework whereby the collection opens with a story of a horse in a law firm and ends with one in which an ape delivers “Ein Bericht für eine Akademie” (“A Report to an Academy”). This framework operates to strip away any veneer of respect one may still entertain for these institutions, and, in a masterful kind of “reverse anthropomorphism,” it compares humans unfavorably with animals. What is done to animals is not to their benefit. The female chimpanzee has “the insane look of the half-broken animal in her eye.” By extension, Kafka seems to be questioning the benefit of what humankind is doing to itself, of the jobs that keep people occupied through the best years of their lives,...
(The entire section is 686 words.)