Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 422

"Josephine the Singer"—also called "Josephine, the Singer or the Mouse Folk" (German: "Josefine, die Sängerin oder Das Volk der Mäuse") is a 1924 story written by famed Bohemian novelist and short story writer Franz Kafka. The story was published after his death, as a part of Kafka’s short story collection...

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"Josephine the Singer"—also called "Josephine, the Singer or the Mouse Folk" (German: "Josefine, die Sängerin oder Das Volk der Mäuse") is a 1924 story written by famed Bohemian novelist and short story writer Franz Kafka. The story was published after his death, as a part of Kafka’s short story collection titled A Hunger Artist (German: Ein Hungerkünstler), and it is the last story that he ever wrote. The story is told by an unnamed narrator who tries to describe the powerful effect and meaning of the songs sung by the main singer of the mouse folk community—Josephine.

Through his narrator, Kafka explains that the mouse folk are separated in their opinions of Josephine; some like her, while others do not appreciate her, her art, or her singing. Nonetheless, they all come together to listen to her music, as it brings back happy memories of their childhoods and careless youth, and the narrator even tells us that when Josephine sings, the mouse folk seem to forget about their struggles and their mundane existence. Josephine believes that her music is the truest and purest form of art in the world.

It is safe to assume that the narrator is one of the mouse folk, but he doesn’t belong in the group of those who like Josephine, nor in the group of those who dislike her. In fact, he seems to be a bit of both. He likes her music and empathizes with her, but at the same time, he doesn’t fully support some of Josephine’s claims and opinions. In a way, he is the bridge between Josephine and her community. Another point I would like to analyze concerns the mouse folk themselves. Interestingly enough, this is where the title of the story comes into play.

Kafka never really specifies who or what they are, exactly. It is obvious that they have a very mouse-like mentality, in the sense that they are very organized, practical, witty, hardworking, communal, and connected to one another, and they seem to feel constant fear of death, weakness, and hostility. Some analysts argue that Kafka used the mouse folk to portray the socioeconomic and political position of the Jews of his time and society, while others believe that he wrote them as he did to portray the people’s sense of community.

In the end, when Josephine is “gone,” the mouse folk admit that her presence will be somewhat missed, but they continue with their lives and daily routines normally and indifferently.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 247

The mouse-narrator presents his observations, analyses, arguments, and counterarguments with careful precision and in a tone of utmost seriousness that sharply contrast with the quaint world of anxiously scurrying mice. Even when he states that Josephine’s auditorium was “still as mice,” the pun is not consciously his. Similar incongruities—mention of the dispersion of the mice out of economic considerations (which some commentators take as a veiled reference to the Diaspora of the Jews), their neglect of history and lack of a musical tradition, their serious economic and political circumstances—demonstrate both the breadth and the limitations of the scholarly mouse’s vision.

Kafka leaves the boundary between the mouse and human worlds deliberately fuzzy. The mouse writes in an impeccable German, records his observation of Josephine and her effect on the community from a number of angles, and qualifies his generalizations and judgments for the sake of clarity and objectivity, yet he is an integral member of the mouse folk and shares their hopes, desires, cares, and disappointments. The result of this dual aspect is a sharpening of the contrast between the grand seriousness of the subject of the narrator’s meditations (the relationship of artist and community) and the slightness of their context within the mouse world. This ironic interplay between human and mouse, great and small, serious and comic, produces a marvelously rich text that further trivializes Josephine’s meager performances. The true artist is Kafka in the guise of his philosophical mouse.

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