Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 417
In “A Report for the Academy” by Franz Kafka, the main character, a former ape called Red Peter, narrates the story how he became human to the “esteemed gentlemen of the academy.” He says he can't tell them anything new, but he hopes to “demonstrate the line by which someone...
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In “A Report for the Academy” by Franz Kafka, the main character, a former ape called Red Peter, narrates the story how he became human to the “esteemed gentlemen of the academy.” He says he can't tell them anything new, but he hopes to “demonstrate the line by which someone who was an ape was forced into the world of men and continued there.”
He was caught by hunters in the Gold Coast. He can't recall exactly what happened, but from the reports he has heard, he thinks he was shot twice—once in the chest and once in the hip—and taken aboard a ship bound for Europe.
His own memory of his capture begins aboard the Hagenbeck steamship, where he remembers waking up below deck in a cage so small that
The whole thing was too low to stand upright and too narrow for sitting down. So I crouched with bent knees, which shook all the time, and since at first I probably did not wish to see anyone and to remain constantly in the darkness, I turned towards the crate, while the bars of the cage cut into the flesh on my back.
He states that he would have died a miserable death if he hadn't worked a way out. He decided that if this was what it meant to be an ape in the human world, “I had to cease being an ape.” Soon, he learned to imitate some of the crew members' behaviors, including spitting and smoking a pipe. The person he calls his "first teacher" taught him how to uncork and drink a bottle of alcohol. By the time he reached Hamburg, he could even talk.
At this point, he says he had a decision to make:
I soon realized the two possibilities open to me: the Zoological Garden or the Music Hall. I did not hesitate. I said to myself: use all your energy to get into the Music Hall. That is the way out. The Zoological Garden is only a new barred cage. If you go there, you’re lost.
By the end, he has achieved enough fame to afford a good standard of living, which includes having his own impresario and a concubine chimpanzee.
On the whole, at any rate, I have achieved what I wished to achieve. You shouldn’t say it wasn’t worth the effort. In any case, I don’t want any man’s judgement. I only want to expand knowledge. I simply report.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 830
Asked by a scientific academy to report on his former life as an ape, Rotpeter responds by saying that his development into a human being during the last five years has erased virtually all memories of his youth in the Gold Coast. In his address to the distinguished gentlemen of the academy, he concentrates instead on his penetration into the human world, where he now feels well established as an accomplished artist in variety shows.
According to his captors, he was shot twice by members of an expedition of the Hagenbeck circus, on the cheek and below the hip. The first wound gave him his name, Rotpeter (“Red Peter”), which he finds distasteful but which differentiates him from a trained ape named Peter that has recently died. He is not at all bashful about showing his second wound to journalists, especially those who claim that he has not completely suppressed his ape nature. In the interest of truth, he believes that he may take down his pants whenever he wishes to reveal his well-groomed fur and the maliciously inflicted wound.
His first memories stem from the time of his captivity in a small cage in the Hagenbeck steamship. Overwhelmed by distress at not having a “way out” for the first time in his life, he was unusually quiet, which was taken as a sign that he either would die soon or could be easily trained. Realizing that he could not live without some kind of way out, he decided to cease being an ape. This solution meant, however, neither escape nor desire for freedom “in all directions,” a quality he perhaps knew as an ape and for which some humans long. Freedom is among the noblest of human self-deceptions, comparable in his mind to the precarious movements of trapeze artists in the variety theaters.
The quiet that the ship’s sailors afforded Rotpeter allowed him to observe them carefully. They moved slowly, often sitting in front of his cage, smoking and watching him in turn. He began to imitate them, first spitting in their faces, then smoking a pipe. It took him weeks to bring himself to drink schnapps. One sailor in particular persisted in giving him drinking lessons. Rotpeter watched attentively as the man uncorked a bottle and repeatedly set it to his lips. Eager to imitate him, Rotpeter soiled his cage, to the sailor’s great satisfaction. Then, with an exaggerated didactic gesture, the sailor emptied the bottle in one gulp and ended the “theoretical” part of the instruction by rubbing his stomach and grinning. It was now the ape’s turn, but despite all of his efforts, he could not overcome his aversion to the smell of the empty bottle when he brought it to his lips.
One evening, the ape grabbed a schnapps bottle that had been left in front of his cage. It was perhaps during a party—a gramophone played—and a number of spectators gathered around as he uncorked the bottle, raised it to his mouth, and emptied it without hesitation. He then threw away the bottle, not in despair but as an artist. His senses intoxicated, he called out suddenly “Hallo,” and with this cry “leaped into the human community.” Although his voice failed him for months afterward and his disgust at the schnapps bottle increased, he had found his way out: He would imitate humans.
After his arrival in Hamburg for training, he did not hesitate to choose between the two paths open to him: zoo or variety stage. The zoo was only a different sort of cage. Wearing out many instructors in the process, he learned rapidly how to abandon his ape nature. When he became more confident of his abilities and the public began to follow his progress, he hired his own teachers, placed them in five neighboring rooms, and learned from them simultaneously by jumping from one room to another without interruption.
Looking back on his development, Rotpeter is relatively happy with the gains he has made, yet he is also aware that his enormous exertion has given him only the “average culture of a European.” Nevertheless, it has provided him with his way out, his human way out. He has “taken cover”; this was his only path, for he could not choose freedom.
During the day, he lounges in his rocking chair and looks out the window. His impresario sits in the anteroom and waits for his ring. In the evening there is the performance, followed by social or scientific gatherings. Afterward, he comes home to a small, half-trained chimpanzee, with whom he takes his pleasure according to the manner of apes, yet whose sight he cannot stand in the daytime.
On the whole, he has achieved what he had set out to achieve. He does not want any human judgment of his efforts, but rather wishes only to spread knowledge and to report. To the distinguished gentlemen of the academy as well, he has only reported.