Kafka's "The Animal in the Synagogue": His Marten as a Special Biblical Memory
Wasserman, Martin, Studies in Short Fiction
Exploring the identity of Kafka's marten-like creature in his story, "The Animal in the Synagogue," Marthe Robert speculated that it should be viewed as the memory of something sacred (113-14). Elaborating on Robert's conjecture, I would argue that the marten specifically symbolized the female prophet, Huldah.(1)
Kafka probably wrote "The Animal in the Synagogue" in 1923,(2) when he had become quite competent in his understanding of Hebrew. One of his teachers, Jiri Langer--who had been a member of the Hasidic sect and thus would have been highly proficient in Hebrew--said of his student: "Yes, Kafka spoke Hebrew. We always spoke Hebrew in the last times we had together.... Unlike the other Prague Zionists, he was speaking fluently" (Oppenheimer 303). Kafka's sound comprehension of his newfound language makes it reasonable to assume that he knew that the Hebrew word, Huldah, meant "marten."(3) That Kafka would use his knowledge of Hebrew when writing "The Animal in the Synagogue" also seems reasonable if one takes into account his similar approach with The Castle, completed only a year earlier. Here, too, he used specific German words in such a way that they took on deeper biblical meanings when translated into Hebrew (Beck 198; Robertson 228).
The storyline of "The Animal in the Synagogue" appears, on first glance, quite fantastic. An animal resembling a marten, but blue-green in color, frightens the women in the synagogue by its movements on the latticework above them. The men, on the other hand, have learned to ignore the marten, although they are periodically angered by its actions. When not near the women, the marten climbs down to the curtain of the Ark of the Covenant and …
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Publication information: Article title: Kafka's "The Animal in the Synagogue": His Marten as a Special Biblical Memory. Contributors: Wasserman, Martin - Author. Journal title: Studies in Short Fiction. Volume: 34. Issue: 2 Publication date: Spring 1997. Page number: 241. © 1997 Studies in Short Fiction. COPYRIGHT 1997 Gale Group.
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