Jackals and Arabs by Franz Kafka

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Jackals and Arabs Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

At night in a desert oasis, the narrator, traveling with an Arab caravan, tries to get to sleep. The distant howling of jackals causes him to sit up again, and in no time the pack is swarming around him. One of them presses close against his body, then stands before him and speaks. It is the oldest in the pack, and it assures the narrator that his arrival here has been awaited for a long time, by countless generations of jackals, in fact. This sounds curious to the man, as he has only come by chance and on a short visit to the African desert.

As if to cast the newcomer in the role of a messiah or liberator, the jackal explains that he and his race are the persecuted enemies of Arabs and place all their hopes in a “Northerner,” whose intelligence far exceeds that of an Arab. The blood enmity between jackals and Arabs requires the extinction of one or the other. The narrator at first thinks the jackals mean to attack the Arabs sleeping in the camp, and he warns that they themselves would undoubtedly be shot down in dozens. Meanwhile, two younger beasts have set their teeth into his coat and shirt and are holding him down.

The old jackal corrects the man’s misunderstanding and tells him that jackals have only their teeth for weapons and that to attack and kill the Arabs would make the animals unclean forever—a kind of unpardonable sin. To be rid of Arabs is what they desire, to return their territory to the natural order of cleanliness: “Every beast to die a natural death; no interference till we have drained the carcass empty and picked its bones clean. Cleanliness, nothing but cleanliness is what we want.” Their wish is for the man to slit the Arabs’ throats for them, and to facilitate the deed they now present him with a small, ancient, rusted pair of sewing scissors.

At this point the leader of the caravan appears from downwind, cracks his whip over the jackals, and sends...

(The entire section is 524 words.)