Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Kafka

Hello! I haven’t had time to read a book for this week due to all my midterms, but I did read a short story.

“A Report to an Academy” by Franz Kafka

Monkey Typing GIFs | Tenor

“Esteemed Gentlemen of the Academy! You show me the honour of calling upon me to submit a report to the Academy concerning my previous life as an ape.”

This story’s told from the perspective of an ape who has learned to read and talk and write, and who basically acts enough like a human being that humans have accepted him as one of their own. In the story, the ape’s writing a report to some academy about how he came to act like a human.

One interesting thing about the story is how it downplays human mistreatment of animals, but at the same time you get the sense that the story’s actually criticizing it: Sure, the humans used to stick blazingly-hot and agony-inducing cigars into the ape’s fur when he was a captive on a ship, but overall the humans were nice sorts.

Maybe the ape is criticizing humans, but he’s writing a report to a human-run academy, and he wouldn’t get anywhere by outright criticism. That might explain the subtle criticisms. Eventually, the ape even tries to downplay the importance of his report by going on about how it’s just a report. That may also be an attempt to sneak his subtle criticisms past the humans.

At the end, the question I was left with was how much of the report reflected what the ape really felt about how he’d been treated by humans.

In analyzing the story, I guess you could say that it’s a depiction of what it’s like to live under a totalitarian regime where you have to censor your thoughts and so on. You could also say it’s an animal rights type of story, or an animal rights story and a totalitarian critique at the same time.

In the end, though, it seems to me that what makes the story interesting is that it’s just a story about an ape who’s writing a report to an academy, but that Kafka lets you give that report any kind of meaning you want.

(If you want to read the story online, here’s a link.)

Happy Tuesday. Stay healthy and safe.

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