Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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.