Monday, February 4, 2008

Gardner’s Plotting, Kafka’s Story (Annotation G3-6/Goddard)

In the quest to gain a better understanding of plot, and plotting techniques in John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, he mentions Franz Kafka’s “A Country Doctor.” Kafka’s piece is puzzling, and more puzzling still, why does John Gardner reference it? It’s conceivable to a reader of Gardner’s chapter seven: “Plotting” that he means Kafka’s smaller chapter of the same name. The vignette, “A Country Doctor” is the second short story in the larger work of the same name. Kafka’s piece as a whole has no continuous plot, each vignette, or story is completely removed from the one before it. Leaving all others aside, what does “A Country Doctor,” have to tell us about plot?
We sense at once some mysterious logic in Kafka’s “A Country Doctor,” and our first impulse is to attribute this mysterious coherence to some ingenious penetration of the nature of things, (Gardner 167).

The narrative begins simply: “I was in great perplexity,” (Kafka 136). At once the reader is right there on the dark and stormy night with the Doctor, great perplexity is correct. Kafka chooses wisely beginning the plot in the middle of the conflict. This doctor has an errand of utmost importance, he has patient to see some miles off, it’s snowing and his horse is dead. The plot? The doctor must see his patient. Under Gardner’s model of the Fichtean curve, diagramed as a triangle, side a is the normal course of action: Kafka’s doctor leaves his home to get to the home of his patient. Line b represents the course he actually takes: the doctor’s lack of livery, the snowy path there, and a crazed farm family with a dying son. Lastly, line c the denouement: despite the worms oozing from his patient’s open wound, the doctor has lost everything by simply leaving things unattended at home.
Gardner uses this example perhaps because the plot points build one after another, and the increased tension in Kafka’s short piece is exciting. In his final summation Gardner assumes the piece is allegorical and as readers: “we may begin to find it thin and too obviously contrived,” (Gardner 167).
In the comparison of plot, what Kafka gives to readers and the subsequent analysis, “A Country Doctor,” remains to be a story read on a sunny day. The plot points are clear, the conflicts horrifying the outcome of Kafka’s little allegorical piece is best summed up in his own words. “There is an excellent idiom: to fight one’s way through the thick of things this is what I have done, I have fought through the thick of things,” (Kafka 183).


Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction. New York: Vintage Books, 1991

Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories. New York: Schocken Books, 1995

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