Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Many of the characteristic marks of Kafka’s short-story style appear here. First-person narration from an unnamed narrator, exotic or peculiar locales, and the general tendency to weave together an integrated metaphor—an allegory—for some larger issue are all typical of his general handling of story materials. By far the most conspicuous of Kafka’s stylistic markers is the tone of the story as a whole: the flat, quasi-historical, apparently calm and reasonable but clearly single-minded opening masks the much more disturbing, less rational, and finally almost frightening voice of a speaker confronting an unthinkable gap in the order of his experience. The accumulation of subtle but important contradictory details, especially in the mass of obsessively collected and apparently objective data about the wall, leads the reader to question the accuracy of the report that the speaker gives. Although at the outset the speaker seems both lucid and authoritative, this lucidity and authority are quickly obscured by the weight of information not given, so that even the anonymity of the speaker and the proposition of an all-knowing, eternal high command become finally threatening. Kafka’s control of tone, so that in the apparently reasonable monologue of the speaker one can discern the shrill overtones of mania, is an indication of his mastery of that anxious and ominous style that is so distinctively his own.