Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 403

"Josephine the Singer" or "Josephine the Songstress or the Mouse Folk" is a short story by Franz Kafka. The story follows Josephine, who is the only artist among the Mouse Folk. While most of the folk simply go through their lives working and surviving, Josephine lives with an air of...

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"Josephine the Singer" or "Josephine the Songstress or the Mouse Folk" is a short story by Franz Kafka. The story follows Josephine, who is the only artist among the Mouse Folk. While most of the folk simply go through their lives working and surviving, Josephine lives with an air of theatrics. She presents herself as a great singer, and though the Mouse Folk are not sure what it is about her singing, or rather whistling, that attracts them, they obediently attend every performance and in some way admire and care for Josephine.

I believe a strong theme of "Josephine the Songstress" is the power of uniqueness. The story follows Josephine, who is in every way different from the other Mouse Folk. She works, just like everyone else, but is constantly requesting to be free of work. She wants her only job to be performing, and she holds her performances in high regard.

The other Mouse Folk all whistle as well. Whistling is a part of their culture, and something they do it mostly subconsciously. However, Josephine has taken the same habit and turned it into the base of her performance and her fame.

She is also different in temperament. The narrator says that she is sweeter and kinder than most Mouse Folk. At the same time, she has temper tantrums and bursts of anger that are not characteristic of the Mouse Folk, who are mostly calm and unaffected by the hardships that plague their lives.

The Mouse Folk are both drawn to and confused by Josephine's uniqueness. They care for her and put up with her, but they aren't really impressed by her talents or swayed by her antics.

The theme also takes an interesting turn at the end of the story. Josephine eventually stops singing and vanishes. For a while the Mouse Folk search for her. Then they remember her and begin to count her among their heroes. Her differences, though confusing at the time, have earned her a spot as a hero.

Of course, with the passage of time, even memory of her vanishes. The Mouse Folk have such a long and full history that there are too many heroes to remember. The historians can't keep up, and the Mouse Folk live in the day-by-day.

So, in the end, Josephine's uniqueness made her a hero, but inevitably, even she was forgotten and lost in the untold history of the Mouse Folk.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 326

Written only a few months before his death, Franz Kafka’s last tale depicts the conflict between an artist seeking proper recognition for her work and a community that has only limited understanding of her artistry. As the title indicates, Josephine, a name that echoes that of Joseph K., protagonist of Kafka’s novel Der Prozess (1925; The Trial, 1937), and the mouse folk exist in a reciprocal relationship, one in which, however, neither side can comprehend the truth of the other. Because Josephine is seen through the eyes of one of her critics, albeit one who tries hard to be as objective as possible, it is hardly surprising that the outcome of the narrator’s reflections is the downfall of the artist and the triumph of the superior wisdom of the mouse folk.

The narrator ascribes the powerful effect of Josephine’s singing not to any vocal talent—her squeaking is clearly substandard—but to the gestures and style of her performance and, more important, to the receptivity of her audience. The mice appear to be particularly moved by the silence that precedes her singing as well as by the opportunity it provides for a communal respite from their labors and worries. Josephine’s insistence on special privileges and recognition of her exceptional status, however, eventually undermines any claims she might have to be a protector of the mouse folk.

At the end of his life, Kafka thus seemed to condemn the artist’s claim to autonomy and radical individuality and affirm instead the artist’s function within a responsive community. Neither Josephine’s personality nor the quality of her art will be remembered by this ahistorical folk, but rather the liberating power of her performances in the midst of danger, worry, and haste. Paradoxically, her redemption will come about only when she as a heroic individual is forgotten, leaving nothing but the collective memory of the dreams and the sense of well-being that her singing induced.

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