A Waking Dream: An Analysis of Kafka’s “A Country Doctor”


credits to the Animation World Network for the image

                 One doesn’t know the sorts of things one has stored in one’s own house (Kafka, par. 1).

A Country Doctor is a depiction of a waking dream – one that occurs before entering into the realm of consciousness. Nonetheless, like any other dream, one does not have control of the events… and as they transpire, the main character becomes a mere spectator – and as in any other case, a victim. The difference rests on the events’ realistic component. As a dream gets more surreal, the events slowly build up – forming rubble of profound realisms, of hidden messages from one’s soul.

A Country Doctor is a story of self-absorption. As the physician grapples with his own struggles, he tried to deal with the world outside. He was a failure, in trying to save Rosa, in trying to save the afflicted man, in trying to assert himself to the groom, in trying to get out so he could somehow save himself. The doctor failed to take control of the events because he failed to take hold of himself.

In the cold winter night he stood and waited outside – fully aware that he could not achieve anything in his actions. He was well aware of the futility of the task… and yet he stood… and yet he waited…

Rosa came – a flickering lamplight in a dark stormy night. She was not able to borrow a horse that would carry the doctor to his destination.

Salvation came in the form of a groom in the pigsty. The doctor should’ve known that the groom is up to no good. If the groom was a decent person, he should’ve sought refuge in the doctor’s abode. But then one could not be very picky at those times. The urgency of his need left the doctor with no choice. Or was it really the case?

The doctor had a good carriage – such good beasts of burden. Only when the groom succeeded with his plan to be left alone with Rosa did the doctor realize that the horses were real beasts – a diversion of sorts, one that took away all of his control over what he had.

With such beasts, he was in his destination in no time. He was confronted with the sick man’s parents, and later on with the sick man himself.  He was thin, without fever, not cold, not warm, with empty eyes, without a shirt (Kafka, par. 2). The ailments seemed to be spiritual in nature – a broken soul, willing itself to receive death on its doorsteps. What could a physician like him do? A broken soul could not rescue another.

He was ready to give up. He must go back if he still wants to save Rosa, but then people are expecting him to do something for the sick man.

As he approached the sick man, the doctor saw a wound that is already infested with worms. The people were happy once again, because the doctor started to take charge. Nonetheless, he – the doctor as well as the sick young man knew that he could no longer do anything to cure his sickness. Still, he must be there to witness the slow decay of the wound, the gradual wilting of life – just as he had witnessed the sullying of his own rose’s innocence.

He tried to flee, mounted on the horses that bore him so swiftly to the man’s house. But as if amused with his purpose, the horses took their time going back. And he knew that things would never be the same again.

The doctor’s story is an allegory of human failings and the struggle to keep one’s spirit alive. The story has presented spiritual themes – of challenges and the crumbling of purposes.

The story was written at the time Germany became a republic. AlthoughGermanystill has to see Hitler’s coming to power fifteen years after the writing of the story, A Country Doctor has managed to evoke the senselessness of going into war. The doctor is the soldier – who with the call of his patriotism must fight for his motherland. He was resolute and he could not be stopped. Only then when there’s no turning back did he realize the huge amount of sacrifice he must shed in order to perform this undertaking. And yet he continued to set forth. He arrived in a scene, where there is little that he can do. He did not become the hero that he wishes to be. Instead, he performed what was only expected of him – to fight for an otherwise pointless battle. He then thought of what he has so unceremoniously left at home. He thought of how he could’ve valued the things that he once possessed – the people, his people. He thought, with despair, the reason why he’s in the battlefield. He is no God. He could never change the course of events. He is only one man.

When all the fights have been fought and war reached into its inevitable conclusion, he threw his arms and decided to go home. He would be back – just in time to save what was still left of his possessions, his family, his sanity, his sense of self. After all, it was never difficult to leave. Surely, his steeds would carry him faster for the return journey. He had ventured from the familiar to the unknown, how hard it would be to go back to what’s already familiar.

He had lost his footing as soon as he started. Fate mocked him. He could not go back that easily. He could never be that same man who has left his homeland years back. He had lost a limb or two, and seen death – hundreds of death before his very eyes… He had been numbed by the explosions and the cold weather. Yet, all of these could never be compared with the shattering of his soul. He picked the pieces one by one and found that he could never make them whole again… a chink had gone missing and the crevices could never be simply filled with glue.

But the war is over. He must move on. Whether this is a waking dream or a glaring reality. And he did. Only after becoming a ghost of his former self.


Bernardo, Karen. “Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor.” Rev. of A Country Doctor by Franz Kafka. www.storybites.com. 17 October 2009

Kafka’s A Country Doctor. Dir. Koji Yamamura. Shochiku. 2007. Internet movie database

Kafka, Franz. A Country Doctor. Trans. 2009. Web. 17 October 2009

Hornek, Daniel. “Franz Kafka: Biography.www.kafka-franz.com.

17 October 2009.