A Report to an Academy

by Franz Kafka

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

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.

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