It has been pointed out to me that considering my blog is called what it is; it’s strange that I haven’t ever written about Kafka or his works. Honestly, I find it incredibly hard to write about his works only because they are so wide open to interpretation that there is a danger of reading too much between the lines and very little of the lines themselves. I've read reviews of the Trial which made the novel sound like a dystopian thriller and I've read an article which claims that Kafka meant the story to be a metaphor for sexual repression. Besides which, there is the fact that however much one may love the man and his writings, they aren't easy reads. I've been meaning to read The Castle for ages but with a toddler underfoot, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. I can and did read some of his short stories though. Although Metamorphosis is probably his most famous short story, I think The Great Wall is an easier read so this is how Kafka makes his debut on my blog.
The Great Wall of China
The story is narrated by an unnamed Chinese narrator who is one of the thousands involved in the building of the Great Wall. We learn nothing more about him and this is, I assume intentional, to underline his irrelevance. The narrator explains the social and economic reasons due to which the great wall was built piece meal and not in one continuous line. He also reflects on the absolute disconnect between the Rulers and the people of the land.
If humour is what you want, Kafka is obviously not where you go looking for it. But there is an unmistakeable tongue-in-cheek tone to this story. I consider this one of Kafka’s most accessible works where he doesn’t try at every sentence to shut the door on his thoughts and leave the reader grappling in the dark. However, with Kafka, accessible is a word one always uses with caution.
If you’ve never read a Kafka before, this story is probably the gentlest way to ease into the genre (yes genre, Kafka didn’t write like anyone else, not Sartre not Camus). You could see this as a quasi-historical insider’s view of the building of the Great Wall or as a political allegory. Either way, I recommend you read it, you can make of it what you will.